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Title: Malcolm Sage, Detective
Author: Herbert Jenkins
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eBook No.:  0200921.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: November 2002
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Title:      Malcolm Sage, Detective
Author:     Herbert Jenkins





CHAPTER I

SIR JOHN DENE RECEIVES HIS ORDERS

"JOHN!"

"Yeh!"

"Don't say 'yeh,' say 'yes, Dorothy dear.’”

"Yes, Dorothy de –" Sir John Dene was interrupted in his apology by a
napkin-ring whizzing past his left ear.

"What's wrong?" he enquired, laying aside his paper and picking up the
napkin-ring.

"I'm trying to attract your attention," replied Lady Dene, slipping from
her place at the breakfast-table and perching herself upon the arm of
her husband's chair. She ran her fingers lightly through his hair. "Are
you listening?"

"Sure!"

"Well, what are you going to do for Mr. Sage?"

In his surprise at the question, Sir John Dene jerked up his head to
look at her, and Dorothy's forefinger managed to find the corner of his
eye.

He blinked vigorously, whilst she, crooning apologies into his ear,
dabbed his eye with her handkerchief.

"Now," she said, when the damage had been repaired, "I'll go and sit
down like a proper, respectable wife of a D.S.O.," and she returned to
her seat. "Well?" she demanded, as he did not speak.

"Yes, dear."

"What are you going to do for Mr. Sage, now that Department Z is being
demobbed? You know you like him, because you didn't want to ginger him
up, and you mustn't forget that he saved your life," she added.

"Sure!"

"Don't say 'sure,' John," she cried. "You're a British baronet, and
British baronets don't say 'sure,' 'shucks' or 'vamoose.' Do you
understand?"

He nodded thoughtfully.

"I like Mr. Sage," announced Dorothy. Then a moment later she added, "He
always reminds me of the superintendent of a Sunday-school, with his
conical bald head and gold spectacles. He's not a bit like a detective,
is he?"

"Sure!"

"If you say it again, John, I shall scream," she cried.

For some seconds there was silence, broken at length by Dorothy.

"I like his wonderful hands, too," she continued. "I'm sure he's proud
of them, because he can never keep them still. If you say 'sure,' I'll
divorce you," she added hastily.

He smiled, that sudden, sunny smile she had learned to look for and
love.

"Then again I like him because he's always courteous and kind. At
Department Z they'd have had their appendixes out if Mr. Sage wanted
them. Now have you made up your mind?"

"Made it up to what?" he asked, lighting a cigar.

"That you're going to set him up as a private detective," she said
coolly. "I don't want him to come here and not find everything planned
out."

"He won't do that," said Sir John Dene with conviction. "He's no
lap-dog."

"I wrote and asked him to call at ten to-day," she said coolly.

"Snakes, you did!" he cried, sitting up in his chair.

"Alligators, I did!" she mocked.

"You're sure some wife." He looked at her admiringly.

"I sure am," she laughed lightly, "but I'm only just beginning, John
dear. By the way, I asked Sir James Walton to come too," she added
casually.

"You--" he began, when the door opened and a little, silver-haired lady
entered. Sir John Dene jumped to his feet.

"Behold the mother of the bride," cried Dorothy gaily.

"Good morning, John," said Mrs. West as he bent and kissed her cheek.
She always breakfasted in her room; she abounded in tact.

"Now we'll get away from the eggs and bacon," cried Dorothy. "In the
language of the woolly West, we'll vamoose," and she led the way out of
the dining-room along the corridor to Sir John Dene's den. "Come along,
mother-mine," she cried over her shoulder. "We've got a lot to discuss
before ten o'clock."

Sir John Dene's "den" was a room of untidiness and comfort As Dorothy
said, he was responsible for the untidiness and she the comfort.

"Heigh-ho!" she sighed, as she sank down into a comfortable chair. "I
wonder what Whitehall would have done without Mr. Sage;" she smiled
reminiscently. "He was the source of half its gossip."

"He was very kind to you, Dorothy, when John was--was lost," said Mrs.
West gently, referring to the time when Sir John Dene had disappeared
and a reward of 20,000 pounds had been offered for news of him.

"Sure!" Sir John Dene acquiesced. "He's a white man, clean to the bone."

"It was very wonderful that an accountant should become such a clever
detective," said Mrs. West. "It shows--" she paused.

"You see, he wasn't a success as an accountant," said Dorothy. "He was
always finding out little wangles that he wasn't supposed to see. So
when they wouldn't have him in the army, he went into the Ministry of
Supply and found out a great, big wangle, and Mr. Llewellyn John was
very pleased. You get me, Honest John?" she demanded, turning to her
husband.

Sir John Dene nodded and blew clouds of cigar smoke from his lips. He
liked nothing better than to sit listening to his wife's reminiscences
of Whitehall, despite the fact that he had heard most of them before.

"Poor Mr. Sage," continued Dorothy, "nobody liked him, and he's got such
lovely down on his head, just like a baby," she added, with a far-away
look in her eyes.

"Perhaps no one understood him," suggested Mrs. West, with instinctive
charity for the Ishmaels of the world.

"Isn't that like her," cried Dorothy, "but this time she's right." she
smiled across at her mother. "When a few thousand tons of copper went
astray, or someone ordered millions of shells the wrong size, Mr. Sage
got the wind up, and tried to find out all about it, and in Whitehall
such things weren't done."

"They tried to put it up on me," grumbled Sir John Dene, twirling his
cigar with his lips, "but I soon stopped their funny work."

"Everybody was too busy winning the war to bother about trifles,"
Dorothy continued. "The poor dears who looked after such things found
life quite difficult enough, with only two hours for lunch and pretty
secretaries to be--"

"Dorothy!" cried Mrs. West reproachfully.

"Well, it's true, mother," she protested.

It was true, as Malcolm Sage had discovered. "Let us concentrate on what
we know we have got," one of his chiefs had once gravely said to him.
"Something is sure to be swallowed up in the fog of war," he had added.
Pleased with the phrase, which he conceived to be original, he had used
it as some men do a titled relative, with the result that Whitehall had
clutched at it gratefully.

"The fog of war," General Conyers Bardulph had muttered when, for the
life of him, he could not find a division that was due upon the Western
Front, and which it was his duty to see was sent out.

"The fog of war," murmured spiteful Anita McGowan, when the pretty
little widow, Mrs. Sleyton, was being interrogated as to the whereabouts
of her husband.

"The fog of war," laughed the girls in Department .P.Q., when at
half-past four one afternoon neither its chief nor his dark-eyed
secretary had returned from lunch.

"But when he went to Department Z he was wonderful," said Mrs. West,
still clinging tenderly to her Ishmael.

"He was," said Sir John Dene. "He was the plumb best man at his job I
ever came across."

"Yes, John dear, that's all very well," said Dorothy, her eyes dancing,
"but suppose you had been the War Cabinet and you had sent for Mr.
Sage--" she paused.

"Well?" he demanded.

"And he had come in a cap and a red tie," she proceeded, "and had
resigned within five minutes, saying that you were talking of things you
didn't know anything about." She laughed at the recollection.

"He was right," said Sir John Dene with conviction. "I've come across
some fools; but--"

"There, there, dear," said Dorothy, "remember there are ladies present.
In Whitehall we all loved Mr. Sage because he snubbed Ministers, and we
hadn't the pluck to do it ourselves," she added.

Sir John Dene snorted. His mind travelled back to the time when he had
been "up against the whole sunflower-patch," as he had once expressed
it.

"But why did they keep him if they didn't like him?" enquired Mrs. West.

"When you don't like anyone in Whitehall," Dorothy continued, "you don't
give him the push, mother dear, you just transfer him to another
department."

"Like circulating bad money," grumbled Sir John Dene.

"It sure was, John," she agreed. "Poor Mr. Sage soon became the most
transferred man in Whitehall. They used to say, 'Uneasy lies the head
that has a Sage.'" She laughed at the recollection.

"But wasn't it rather unkind?" said Mrs. West gently.

"It was, mother-mine; but Whitehall was a funny place. One of Mr. Sage's
chiefs went about for months trying to get rid of him. He offered to
give a motor-cycle to anyone who would take him, it was a Government
cycle," she added; "but there was nothing doing. We called him Henry the
Second and Mr. Sage Becket, the archbishop not the boxer," she
explained. "You know," she added, "there was once an English king who
wanted to get rid of--"

"We'll have it the sort of concern that insurance companies can look
to," Sir John Dene broke in.

"What on earth are you talking about, John?" cried Dorothy.

Whilst his wife talked Sir John Dene had been busy planning Malcolm
Sage's future, and he had uttered his thoughts aloud. He proceeded to
explain. When he had finished, Dorothy clapped her hands.

"Hurrah! for Malcolm Sage, Detective," she cried and, jumping up, she
perched herself upon the arm of her husband's chair, and rumpled the
fair hair, which with her was always a sign of approval. "That's his
ring, or Sir James's," she added as the bell sounded.

"Now we'll leave you lords of creation to carry out my idea," she said
as she followed Mrs. West to the door.

And Sir John Dene smiled.

* * * * * 

"In the States they've got Pinkerton's," said Sir John Dene, twirling
with astonishing rapidity an unlit cigar between his lips. "If you've
lost anything, from a stickpin to a mountain, you just blow in there,
tell them all about it, and go away and don't worry. Here you've got
nothing."

"We have Scotland Yard," remarked Malcolm Sage quietly, without looking
up from the contemplation of his hands, which, with fingers wide apart,
rested upon the table before him.

His bald, conical head seemed to contradict the determined set of his
jaw and the steel-coloured eyes that gazed keenly through large
gold-rimmed spectacles. Even his ears, that stood squarely out from his
head, appeared to emphasise by their aggressiveness that they had
nothing to do with the benevolent shape of the head above.

"Yes, and you've got Cleopatra's Needle, and the pelicans in St. James's
Park," Sir John Dene retorted scornfully. He had never forgotten the
occasion when, at a critical moment in the country's history, the First
Lord of the Admiralty had casually enquired if he had seen the pelicans.

For the last half-hour Sir John Dene, with characteristic impulsiveness,
had been engaged in brushing aside all Malcolm Sage's "cons" with his
almighty "Pro."

"We'll have a Pinkerton's in England," he resumed, as neither of his
listeners took up his challenge, "and we'll call it Sage's."

"I shall in all probability receive quite a number of orders for
shop-fronts," murmured Malcolm Sage, with a slight fluttering at the
corners of his mouth, which those who knew him understood how to
interpret.

"Shop-fronts!" repeated Sir John Dene, looking from one to the other, "I
don't get you."

"There is already a well-known firm of shop-furnishers called 'Sage's,'"
explained Sir James, who throughout the battle had been an amused
listener.

"Well, we'll call it the Malcolm Sage Detective Bureau," replied Sir
John Dene, "and we'll have it a concern that insurance companies can
look to." He proceeded to light his cigar, with him always a sign that
something of importance had been settled.

Sir John Dene liked getting his own way. That morning he had resolutely
brushed aside every objection, ethical and material, that had been
advanced. To Malcolm Sage he considered that he owed a lot, and with all
the aggressiveness of his nature, he overwhelmed and engulfed objection
and protest alike. To this was added the fact that the idea was his
wife's, and in his own phraseology "that goes."

Passive and attentive, his long shapely hands seldom still, Malcolm Sage
had listened. From time to time he ventured some objection, only to have
it brushed aside by Sir John Dene's overwhelming determination.

For some minutes Malcolm Sage had been stroking the back of his head
with the palm of his right hand, a habit of his when thoughtful.
Suddenly he raised his eyes and looked across at his would-be
benefactor.

"Why should you want to do this for me, Sir John?" he asked.

"If you're going to put up a barrage of whys," was the irascible retort,
"you'll never cut any ice."

"I fully appreciate the subtlety of the metaphor," said Malcolm Sage,
the corners of his mouth twitching; "but still why?"

"Well, for one thing I owe you something," barked Sir John Dene, "and
remembering's my long suit. For another, Lady Dene--"

"That is what I wanted to know," said Malcolm Sage, as he drew his briar
from his pocket and proceeded to fill it. "Will you thank Lady Dene and
tell her that I am proud to be under an obligation to her--and to you,
Sir John," he added.

"Say, that's fine," cried Sir John Dene, jumping to his feet and
extending his hand, which Malcolm Sage took, an odd, quizzical
expression in his eyes. "This Detective Bureau notion is a whale."

"The zoological allusion, I'm afraid, is beyond me," said Malcolm Sage
as he struck a match, "but no doubt you are right," and he looked across
at Sir James Walton, whose eyes smiled his approval.

"It's all fixed up," cried Sir John Dene to his wife as she came out
into the hall as the visitors were departing.

"I'm so glad," she cried, giving her hand to Malcolm Sage. "You'll be
such a success, Mr. Sage," and she smiled confidently up into his eyes.

"With such friends," he replied, "failure would be an impertinence," and
he and Sir James Walton passed out of the flat to return to what was
left of the rapidly demobilising Department Z, which had made history by
its Secret Service work.

In a few days the news leaked out that "M.S.," as Malcolm Sage was
called by the staff, was to start a private-detective agency. The whole
staff promptly offered its services, and there was much speculation and
heart-burning as to who would be selected.

On hearing that she was to continue to act as Malcolm Sage's secretary,
Miss Gladys Norman had done a barn-dance across the room, her arrival at
the door synchronising with the appearance of Malcolm Sage from without.
It had become a tradition at Department Z that "M.S." could always be
depended upon to arrive at the most embarrassing moment of any little
dramatic episode; but it was equally well-known that he possessed a
"blind-side" to his vision. They called it "the Nelson touch."

James Thompson, Malcolm Sage's principal assistant, and William Johnson,
the office junior, had also been engaged, and their enthusiasm had been
as great as that of their colleague, although less dramatically
expressed.

A battle royal was fought over the body of Arthur Tims, Malcolm Sage's
chauffeur. Sir John Dene had insisted that a car and a chauffeur were
indispensable, to a man who was to rival Pinkerton's. Malcolm Sage, on
the other hand, had protested that it was an unnecessary expense in the
early days of a concern that had yet to justify itself. To this Sir John
Dene had replied, "Shucks!" at the same time notifying Tims that he was
engaged for a year, and authorising him to select a car, find a garage,
and wait instructions.

Tims did not do a barn-dance. He contented himself for the time being
with ruffling William Johnson's dark, knut-like hair, a thing to which
he was much addicted. Returning home on the evening of his engagement he
had bewildered Mrs. Tims by seizing her as she stood in front of the
kitchen-stove, a frying-pan full of sausages in her hand, and waltzing
her round the kitchen, frying-pan and all.

Subsequently five of the six sausages had been recovered; but the sixth
was not retrieved until the next morning when, in dusting, Mrs. Tims
discovered it on the mantelpiece.

CHAPTER II

THE STRANGE CASE OF MR. CHALLONER

"PLEASE, sir. Miss Norman's fainted." William Johnson, known to his
colleagues as the Innocent, stood at Malcolm S. Sage's door, with
widened eyes and a general air that bespoke helplessness.

Without a word Malcolm Sage rose from his table, as if accustomed all
his life to the fainting of secretaries. William Johnson stood aside,
with the air of one who has rung a fire-alarm and now feels he is at
liberty to enjoy the fire itself.

Entering her room, Malcolm Sage found Gladys Norman lying in a heap
beside her typewriter. Picking her up he carried her into his own room,
placed her in an arm-chair, fetched some brandy from a small cupboard
and, still watched by the wide-eyed William Johnson, proceeded to force
a little between her teeth.

Presently her lids flickered and, a moment later, she opened her eyes.
For a second there was in them a look of uncertainty, then suddenly they
opened to their fullest extent and became fixed upon the door beyond.
Malcolm Sage glanced over his shoulder and saw framed in the doorway Sir
James Walton.

"Sit down, Chief," he said quietly, his gaze returning to the girl
sitting limply in the large leather-covered arm-chair. "I shall be free
in a moment."

It was characteristic of him to attempt no explanation. To his mind the
situation explained itself.

As Miss Norman made an effort to rise, he placed a detaining hand upon
her arm.

"Send Mr. Thompson."

With a motion of his hand Malcolm Sage indicated to William Johnson that
the dramatic possibilities of the situation were exhausted, at least as
far as he was concerned. With reluctant steps the lad left the room and,
having told Thompson he was wanted, returned to his seat in the outer
office, where it was his mission to sit in preliminary judgment upon
callers.

When Thompson entered, Malcolm Sage instructed him to move the
leather-covered chair into Miss Norman's room and, when she was rested,
to take her home in the car.

Thompson's face beamed. His devotion to Gladys Norman was notorious.

The girl rose and raised to Malcolm Sage a pair of dark eyes from which
tears were not far distant.

"I'm so ashamed, Mr. Sage," she began, her lower lip trembling
ominously. "I've never done such a thing before."

"I've been working you too hard," he said, as he held back the door.
"You must go home and rest."

She shook her head and passed out, whilst Malcolm Sage returned to his
seat at the table.

"Working till two o'clock this morning," he remarked as he resumed his
seat. "She won't have assistance. Strange creatures, women," he added
musingly, "but beautifully loyal."

Sir James dropped into a chair on the opposite side of Malcolm Sage's
table. Having selected a cigar from the box his late chief-of-staff
pushed across to him, he cut off the end and proceeded to light it.

"Good cigars these," he remarked, as he critically examined the lighted
end.

"They're your own brand, Chief," was the reply.

Malcolm Sage always used the old name of "Chief" when addressing Sir
James Walton. It seemed to constitute a link with the old days when they
had worked together with a harmony that had bewildered those heads of
departments who had regarded Malcolm Sage as something between a
punishment and a misfortune.

"Busy?"

"Very."

For some seconds they were silent. It was like old times to be seated
one on each side of a table, and both seemed to realise the fact.

"I've just motored up from Hurstchurch," began Sir James at length,
having assured himself that his cigar was drawing as a good cigar should
draw. "Been staying with an old friend of mine, Geoffrey Challoner."
Malcolm Sage nodded.

"He was shot last night. That's why I'm here." He paused; but Malcolm
Sage made no comment. His whole attention was absorbed in an ivory
paper-knife, which he was endeavouring to balance upon the handle of the
silver inkstand. More than one client had been disconcerted by Malcolm
Sage's restless hands, which they interpreted as a lack of interest in
their affairs.

"At half-past seven this morning," continued Sir James, "Peters, the
butler, knocked at Challoner's door with his shaving-water. As there was
no reply he entered and found, not only that Challoner was not there,
but that the bed had not been slept in over night."

Malcolm lifted his hands from the paper-knife. It balanced.

"He thought Challoner had fallen asleep in the library," continued Sir
James, "which he sometimes did, he is rather a night-owl. Peters then
went downstairs, but found the library door locked on the inside. As
there was no response to his knocking, he went round to the French
windows that open from the library on to the lawn at the back of the
house. The curtains were drawn, however, and he could see nothing."

"Is it usual to draw the curtains?" enquired Malcolm Sage, regarding
with satisfaction the paper-knife as it gently swayed up and down upon
the inkstand.

"Yes, except in the summer, when the windows are generally kept open."

Malcolm Sage nodded, and Sir James resumed his story.

"Peters then went upstairs to young Dane's room; Dane is Challoner's
nephew, who lives with him. While he dressed he sent Peters to tell me.

"A few minutes later we all went down to the library and tried to
attract Challoner's attention; but without result. I then suggested
forcing an entry from the garden, which was done by breaking the glass,
of one of the French windows.

"We found Challoner seated at his table dead, shot through the head. He
had an automatic pistol in his hand." Sir James paused; his voice had
become husky with emotion. Presently he resumed.

"We telephoned for the police and a doctor, and I spent the time until
they came in a thorough examination of the room. The French windows had
been securely bolted top and bottom from within, by means of a central
handle. All the panes of glass were intact, with the exception of that
we had broken. The door had been locked on the inside, and the key was
in position. It was unlocked by Peters when he went into the hall to
telephone. It has a strong mortice-lock and the key did not protrude
through to the outer side, so that there was no chance of manipulating
the lock from without. In the fireplace there was an electric stove, and
from the shower of soot that fell when I raised the trap, it was clear
that this had not been touched for some weeks at least.

"The doctor was the first to arrive. At my urgent request he refrained
from touching the body. He said death had taken place from seven to ten
hours previously as the result of the bullet wound in the temple. He had
scarcely finished his examination when an inspector of police, who had
motored over from Lewes, joined us.

"It took him very few minutes to decide that poor Challoner had shot
himself. In this he was confirmed by the doctor. Still, I insisted that
the body should not be removed."

"Why did you do that, Chief?" enquired Malcolm Sage, who had discarded
the paper-knife and was now busy drawing geometrical figures with the
thumb-nail of his right hand upon the blotting pad before him.

"Because I was not satisfied," was the reply. "There was absolutely no
motive for suicide. Challoner was in good health and, if I know anything
about men, determined to live as long as the gods give."

Again Malcolm Sage nodded his head meditatively.

"The jumping to hasty conclusions," he remarked, "has saved many a man
his neck. Whom did you leave in charge?" he queried.

"The inspector. I locked the door; here is the key," he said, producing
it from his jacket pocket. "I told him to allow no one into the room."

"Why were you there?" Malcolm Sage suddenly looked up, flashing that
keen, steely look through his gold-rimmed spectacles that many men had
found so disconcerting. "Ordinary visit?" he queried.

"No." Sir James paused, apparently deliberating something in his own
mind. He was well acquainted with Malcolm Sage's habit of asking
apparently irrelevant questions.

"There's been a little difficulty between Challoner and his nephew," he
said slowly. "Some days back the boy announced his determination of
marrying a girl he had met in London, a typist or secretary. Challoner
was greatly upset, and threatened to cut him out of his will if he
persisted. There was a scene, several scenes in fact, and eventually I
was sent for as Challoner's oldest friend."

"To bring the nephew to reason," suggested Malcolm Sage.

"To give advice ostensibly; but in reality to talk things over," was the
reply.

"You advised?" When keenly interested, Malcolm Sage's questions were
like pistol shots.

"That Challoner should wait and see the girl."

"Did he?" Malcolm Sage was intent upon outlining his hand with the point
of the paper-knife upon the blotting pad.

Again Sir James hesitated, only for a fraction of a second, however.
"Yes; but unfortunately with the object of endeavouring to buy her off.
Yesterday afternoon Dane brought her over. Challoner saw her alone. She
didn't stay more than a quarter of an hour. Then she and Dane left the
house together, he to see her to the station. An hour later he returned.
I was in the hall at the time. He was in a very excited state. He pushed
past me, burst into the library, banging the door behind him.

"That evening at dinner Challoner told me there had been a very
unpleasant scene. He had warned the boy that unless he apologised to-day
he would telephone to London for his lawyer, and make a fresh will
entirely disinheriting him. Soon after the interview Dane went out of
the house, and apparently did not return until late--as a matter of fact,
after I had gone to bed. I was feeling tired and said 'good night' to
Challoner about half-past ten in the library."

For some time Malcolm Sage gazed upon the outline he had completed, as
if in it lay the solution of the mystery.

"It's a pity you let the butler unlock the door," he remarked
regretfully.

Sir James looked across at his late chief-of-staff keenly. He detected
something of reproach in his tone.

"Did you happen to notice if the electric light was on when you entered
the library?"

"No," said Sir James, after a slight pause; "it was not."

Malcolm Sage reached across to the private telephone and gave the "three
on the buzzer" that always galvanised Miss Gladys Norman into instant
vitality.

"Miss Norman," said Sage as she entered, "can you lend me the small
mirror I have seen you use occasionally?"

"Yes, Mr. Sage," and she disappeared, returning a moment later with the
mirror from her handbag. She was accustomed to Malcolm Sage's strange
requests.

"Feeling better?" he enquired as she turned to go.

"I'm all right now," she smiled, "and please don't send me home, Mr.
Sage," she added, and she went out before he had time to reply.

A quarter of an hour later the two men entered Sir James's car, whilst
Thompson and Dawkins, the official photographer to the Bureau, followed
in that driven by Tims. Malcolm Sage would cheerfully have sacrificed
anybody and anything to serve his late chief.

"And how am I to keep the shine off my nose without a looking-glass,
Johnny?" asked Miss Norman of William Johnson, as she turned to resume
her work.

"He won't mind if it shines," said the youth seriously; and Miss Norman
gave him a look, which only his years prevented him from interpreting.

* * * * * 

As the car drew up, the hall-door of "The Cedars" was thrown open by the
butler, a fair-haired clean-shaven man of about forty-five, with grave,
impassive face, and eyes that gave the impression of allowing little to
escape them.

As he descended the flight of stone steps to open the door of the car, a
young man appeared behind him. A moment later Sir James was introducing
him to Malcolm Sage as "Mr. Richard Dane."

Dark, with smoothly-brushed hair and a toothbrush moustache, he might
easily have been passed over in a crowd without a second glance. He was
obviously and acutely nervous. His fingers moved jerkily, and there were
twitchings at the corners of his mouth that he seemed unable to control.
It was not a good-tempered mouth. He appeared unconscious of the
presence of Malcolm Sage. His eyes were fixed upon the second car, which
had just drawn up, and from which Thompson and Dawkins were removing the
photographic paraphernalia.

Peters conducted Sir James and Malcolm Sage to the dining-room, where
luncheon was laid. "Shall I serve luncheon, Sir James?" he enquired,
ignoring Dane, who was clearly unequal to the strain of the duties of
host.

Sir James looked across at Malcolm Sage, who shook his head.

"I'll see the library first," he said. "Sir James will show me. Fetch
Dawkins," he said to Thompson, and he followed Sir James through the
house out on to the lawn.

As they entered the library by the French windows, a tall, sandy man
rose from the arm-chair in which he was seated. He was Inspector Gorton
of the Sussex County Constabulary. Malcolm Sage nodded a little
absently. His eyes were keenly taking in every detail of the figure
sprawling across the writing-table. The head rested on the left cheek,
and there was an ugly wound in the right temple from which blood had
dripped and congealed upon the table. In the right hand was clutched a
small, automatic pistol. The arm was slightly curved, the weapon
pointing to the left.

Having concluded his examination of the wound, Malcolm Sage drew a
silk handkerchief from his pocket, shook out its folds and spread it
carefully over the blood-stained head of Mr. Challoner.

Sir James looked across at him, appreciation in his eyes. It was one of
those little human touches, of which he had discovered so many in
Malcolm Sage, and the heads of Government departments in Whitehall so
few.

Malcolm Sage next proceeded to regard the body from every angle, even
going down on his knees to see the position of the legs beneath the
table. He then walked round the room and examined everything with minute
attention, particularly the key of the door, which Sir James had
replaced in its position on the inside. The keyhole on both sides of the
door came in for careful scrutiny.

He tried the door of a small safe at the far end of the room; it was
locked. He then examined the fastenings of the French windows.

Finally he returned to the table, where, dropping on one knee on the
left-hand side of the body, he drew a penknife from his pocket, and
proceeded with great care and deliberation to slit up the outer seam of
the trousers so that the pocket lay exposed.

This in turn he cut open, taking care not to disturb the bunch of keys,
which, attached to a chain, lay on the thigh, a little to the left.

The others watched him with wide-eyed interest, the inspector breathing
heavily.

Having assured himself that the keys would not slide off, Malcolm Sage
rose and turned to Dawkins: "I want a plate from the right, the left,
the front, and from behind and above. Also an exposure showing the
position of the legs, and another of the keys."

Dawkins inclined his head. He was a grey, bald-headed little man who had
only one thought in life, his profession. He seldom spoke, and when he
did his lips seemed scarcely to part, the words slipping out as best
they could.

Happy in the knowledge that his beloved camera was once more to be one
of the principal witnesses in the detection of a crime, Dawkins set
himself to his task.

"When Dawkins has finished," said Malcolm Sage, turning to the
inspector, who had been watching the proceedings with ill-disguised
impatience, "you can remove the body; but leave the pistol. Give Mr.
Challoner's keys to Sir James. And now I think we might lunch," he said,
turning to Sir James.

Malcolm Sage's attitude towards the official police was generally
determined by their attitude towards him. In the Department Z days, he
had been known at Scotland Yard as "Sage & Onions." What the phrase
lacked in wit was compensated for by the feeling with which it was
frequently uttered. The police officers made no effort to dissemble the
contempt they felt for a department in which they saw a direct rebuke to
themselves. Later, however, their attitude changed, and Malcolm Sage was
brought into close personal touch with many of the best-known officers
of the Criminal Investigation Department.

He had never been known to speak disparagingly, or patronisingly, of
Scotland Yard. On the other hand, he lost no opportunity of emphasising
the fact that it was the headquarters of the most efficient police force
in the world. He did not always agree with its methods, which in many
ways he regarded as out-of-date.

As Malcolm Sage left the room, the inspector shrugged his shoulders. The
whole thing was so obvious that, but for the presence of Sir James
Walton, he would have refused to delay the removal of the body. The
doctor had pronounced the wound self-inflicted, and even if he had not
done so, the circumstantial evidence was conclusive.

Luncheon was eaten in silence, a constrained and uncomfortable meal.
Malcolm Sage ate as he always ate when his mind was occupied, with
entire indifference as to what was on the plate, from which his eyes
never lifted.

Sir James made several ineffectual efforts to draw Dane into
conversation; but at each remark the young man started violently, as if
suddenly recalled to his surroundings. Finally Sir James desisted, and
the meal concluded in abysmal silence.

Malcolm Sage then announced that he would examine the various members of
the household, and Dane and Peters left the room.

One by one the servants entered, were interrogated, and departed. Even
the gardener and his wife, who lived at the lodge by the main gates,
were cross-questioned.

Mrs. Trennett, the housekeeper, was incoherent in her voluble anxiety to
give information. The maids were almost too frightened to speak, and
from none was anything tangible extracted. No one had any reason for
being near the library late at night. When Peters' turn came, he told
his story with a clearness and economy of words that caused Malcolm Sage
mentally to register him as a good witness. He was a superior kind of
man, who had been in his present position only some six months; but
during that time he had given every satisfaction, so much so that Mr.
Challoner had remarked to Sir James that he believed he had found a
treasure.

According to Peters' account, at a quarter-past eleven on the previous
evening he had gone to the library, as was his custom, to see if there
were anything else that Mr. Challoner required before he locked up for
the night. On being told there was nothing, he had accordingly seen to
the fastenings of doors and windows and gone to bed.

"What was Mr. Challoner doing when you entered the room?" enquired
Malcolm Sage, intent upon a design he was drawing upon the surface of
the salt.

"He was sitting at the table where I found him this morning."

''What was he actually doing?"

"I think he was checking his bankbook, sir."

"Did you notice anything strange about his manner?"

"No, sir."

"When you found that his bed had not been slept in were you surprised?"

"Not greatly, sir," was the response. "Once before a similar thing
happened, and I heard from the other servants that on several occasions
Mr. Challoner had spent the night in the library, having fallen asleep
there."

"When you told Mr. Dane that his uncle had not slept in his room, and
that the library door was locked on the inside, what did he say?"

"He said, 'Good Lord! Peters, something must have happened.’”

"Mr. Dane knew that on previous occasions his uncle had spent the night
in his study?" enquired Malcolm Sage, smoothing out the design upon
which he had been engaged and beginning another.

"I think so, sir," was the response.

"The pistol was the one he used at target practice?"

"Yes, sir."

"Where did he keep it?"

"In the third right-hand drawer of his table, sir."

"He was a good shot, I think you said?" Malcolm Sage turned to Sir
James.

"Magnificent," he said warmly. "I have often shot with him."

"Do you know of any reason why Mr. Challoner should commit suicide?"
Malcolm Sage enquired of Peters.

"None whatever, sir; he always seemed very happy."

"He had no domestic worries?"

Peters hesitated for a moment.

"He never mentioned any to me, sir."

"You have in mind certain events that occurred during the last few days,
I take it?" said Malcolm Sage.

"That was in my mind, sir," was the response.

"You know of no way by which anyone could have got into the library and
then out again, other than through the door or the window?"

Malcolm Sage had relinquished the salt spoon and was now meditatively
twirling a wineglass by its stem between his thumb and first finger.

"There is no other way, sir."

"Who has access to the library in the ordinary way? Tell the names of
everybody who is likely to go in at any time."

"Outside Mr. Challoner and Mr. Dane, there is myself, Trennett the
housekeeper, and Meston the housemaid."

"No one else."

"No one, sir, except, of course, the guests who might be staying in the
house."

"I shall want the finger-prints of all those you have named, including
yours, Sir James." Malcolm Sage looked across at Sir James Walton. "I
can then identify those of any stranger that I may find." Sir James
nodded.

"It would be quite easy for Mr. Challoner to let anyone in through the
French windows?" enquired Malcolm Sage, turning once more to Peters.

"Quite, sir."

"What time did Mr. Dane return last evening?"

"I think about a quarter to eleven, sir. He went straight to his room."

"That will be all now. Tell Mr. Dane I should like to see him."

Peters noiselessly withdrew.

A few minutes later Dane entered the room. Malcolm Sage gave him a keen,
appraising look, then dropped his eyes. Dane was still acutely nervous.
His fingers moved jerkily and the corners of his mouth twitched.

"Will you tell me what took place yesterday between you and your uncle?"
said Malcolm Sage.

Dane looked about him nervously, as an animal might who has been trapped
and seeks some means of escape. "We had a row," he began, then paused;
"a terrible row," he added, as if to emphasise the nature of the
quarrel.

"So I understand," said Malcolm Sage. "I know what it was about. Just
tell me what actually took place. In as few words as possible, please."

"A week ago I told my uncle of my engagement, and he was very angry when
he knew that my fiancee was-was--"

"A secretary," suggested Malcolm Sage, without looking up.

"Yes. He ordered me to break off the engagement at once, no matter what
it might cost."

"He referred to his pocket rather than to your feelings, I take it?"
said Malcolm Sage.

"Yes." There was a world of bitterness in the tone in which the word was
uttered. "I refused. Four days ago Sir James came and, I think, talked
things over with my uncle, who said he would see Enid, that is, my
fiancee. She came yesterday afternoon. My uncle insisted on seeing her
alone. She stayed only a few minutes."

His voice broke. He swallowed rapidly several times in succession,
struggling to regain control of himself.

"You walked back to the station with her," remarked Malcolm Sage, "and
she told you what had taken place. Your uncle had offered to buy her
off. You were furious. You said many wild and extravagant things. Then
you came back and went immediately into the library. What took place
there?"

"I don't remember what I said. I think for the time I was insane. He had
actually offered her money, notes. He had drawn them out of the bank on
purpose." Again he stopped, as if the memory of the insult were too much
for him.

"And you said?" suggested Malcolm Sage, twirling the wineglass slowly
between his thumb and finger.

"I probably said what any other man would have said under similar
circumstances." There was a quiet dignity about the way in which he
uttered these words, although his fingers still continued to twitch.

"Did he threaten you, or you him?"

"I don't remember what I said; but my uncle told me that, unless I wrote
to Enid to-day giving her up and apologised to him, he would telephone
for his lawyer and make a fresh will, cutting me out of it entirely. I
was to have until the next morning to decide, that is, to-day."

Malcolm Sage still kept his eyes averted. He contended that to look
fixedly into the eyes of anyone undergoing interrogation was calculated
to confuse him and render the replies less helpful.

"And what would your decision have been?" he asked.

"I told him that if he gave me ten years it would be the same."

"That you would not do as he wished?"

"Certainly not."

"Until this episode you were on good terms with each other?" Malcolm
Sage had got a dessert spoon and fork to balance on the blade of a
knife.

"Yes."

"You know of no reason why your uncle should take his life?"

"None whatever."

"This episode in itself would not be sufficient to cause him to commit
suicide?"

"Certainly not. Sir James will tell you that he was a man of strong
character."

"Do you believe he shot himself?" Malcolm Sage seemed absorbed in the
rise and fall of the balancing silver.

"But for the locked door I should have said 'no.’”

"What were you proposing to do in the light of your refusal to break the
engagement?"

"I had everything packed up ready. I meant to go away this morning."

"By the way, where did your uncle bank?" enquired Malcolm Sage casually.

"At the Southern Counties and Brown's Bank, Lewes," was the reply.

"Thank you. That will do, I think, for the present. You had better run
round to your doctor and get him to give you something to steady your
nerves," said Malcolm Sage, with eyes that had lost their professional
glint. "They are all on edge."

Dane glanced at him in surprise; but there was only a cone of baldness
visible.

"Thank you," he said. "I think I will," and he turned and left the room.
He still seemed dazed and incapable of realising what was taking place.

Malcolm Sage rose and, walking over to the door, removed the key,
examined the wards intently, then replaced it and, opening the door,
walked across to the library.

CHAPTER III

MALCOLM SAGE'S MYSTERIOUS MOVEMENTS

MALCOLM SAGE found that Dawkins had completed his work, and the body of
Mr. Challoner had been removed.

Seating himself at the table, he took the automatic pistol in his hand
and deliberately removed the cartridges. Then placing the muzzle against
his right temple he turned his eyes momentarily on Dawkins, who, having
anticipated his wishes, had already adjusted the camera. He removed the
cap, replaced it, and then quickly reversed the plate.

Pulling the trigger, Malcolm Sage allowed his head to fall forward, his
right hand, which held the pistol, dropping on the table before him.
Dawkins took another photograph.

"Now," said Malcolm Sage to Sir James. "You shoot me through the right
temple, approaching from behind. Grip my head as if you expected me to
resist."

Sir James did as he was requested, Dawkins making another exposure.

Malcolm Sage motioned Thompson to draw the curtains. Then dropping on to
his knees by the library door, he took the small mirror he had borrowed
from Miss Norman and, placing it partly beneath the door, carefully
examined the reflection by the aid of an electric torch.

When he rose it was with the air of a man who had satisfied himself upon
some important point. He then turned to Sir James.

"You might get those finger-prints," he said casually. "Get everyone
together in the dining-room. See that no one leaves it for at least a
quarter of an hour. Thompson will go with you."

"Then you think it was murder?" questioned Sir James.

"I would sooner say nothing just at the moment," was the reply.

Whilst Sir James Walton and Thompson were occupied with a room-full of
domestics, talking in whispers as if in the presence of death, Malcolm
Sage was engaged in a careful examination of the bottoms of all the
doors in the house by means of a mirror placed upwards beneath each. He
also removed the keys and gave a swift look at the wards of each lock.
He moved quickly; yet without haste, as if his brain had entire control
of the situation. One door in particular appeared to interest him, so
much that he entered the room and proceeded to examine it with great
thoroughness, taking the utmost care to replace everything as he found
it.

From the middle drawer of the chest-of-drawers, he extracted from under
a pile of clothes a thin steel object, some five or six inches in
length, wound round with a fine, strong twine. This he slipped into his
pocket and, going down into the hall, rang up the manager of the Lewes
branch of the Southern Counties and Brown's Bank.

Passing into the library, he searched the drawers of the table at which
Mr. Challoner had been found. In one of them he discovered the
pass-book. Seating himself at the table, he proceeded to examine it
carefully. Turning to the pockets at either end, where cancelled cheques
are usually placed, he found both were empty.

When a few minutes later Sir James and Thompson entered with the
finger-prints, Malcolm Sage was seated at the table smoking, his gaze
concentrated upon the nail of the fourth finger of his right hand. With
him a contemplation of his finger-nails in general indicated thoughtful
attention; when, however, he raised the hand and began to subject some
particular finger-nail to a thorough and elaborate examination, it
generally meant the germination of some constructive thesis.

Taking the sheets of paper from Thompson, he went through them rapidly,
then drawing a sheet of note-paper from the rack before him he scribbled
a hasty note, enclosed it with one of the finger-prints in an envelope,
which he sealed, addressed, and handed to Thompson with instructions to
see that it was delivered without delay. He also told him to send Peters
and Dane to the library.

Three minutes later Tims swung down the drive, his face beaming. He was
to drive to Scotland Yard and "never mind the poultry on the road," as
Thompson had phrased it.

“Have you the key of the safe, Mr. Dane?" enquired Malcolm Sage as the
young man entered, followed by Peters. Dane shook his head and looked at
Peters.

"Mr. Challoner always wore it on his key-chain, sir," said the butler.

"Have you any objection to the safe being opened?" enquired Malcolm Sage
of Dane.

"None whatever."

"Then perhaps you will open it?" said Malcolm Sage, turning to Sir
James.

In the safe were found several bundles of letters and
share certificates, and an old cash-box containing some loose stamps;
but nothing else.

Malcolm Sage dismissed Peters and Dane, saying that he would be
returning to town after dinner. In the meantime he and Sir James
strolled about the grounds, discussing the remarkable rise in the
chess-world of Capablanca, whilst Dawkins was busily occupied in a
darkened bath-room.

Dinner proved a far less sombre meal than luncheon. Malcolm Sage and Sir
James between them succeeded in placing young Dane more at his ease. The
haunted, shell-shock look left his eyes, and the twitching disappeared
from the corners of his mouth.

It was nearly nine o'clock when the distant moan of a hooter announced
to Malcolm Sage's alert ears the return of Tims. He rose from the table
and walked slowly to the door, where for some seconds he stood with his
hand upon the knob.

As the car drew up he slipped into the hall, just as Peters opened the
door.

A moment later the butler started back, his right hand seemed to fly to
his left breast pocket. At the same moment Malcolm Sage sprang forward.
There was a flash, a report, and two bodies fell at the feet of
Inspector Wensdale, of Scotland Yard, and another man standing beside
him.

In a second, however, they had thrown themselves upon the struggling
heap, and when Malcolm Sage rose to his feet it was to look down upon
Peters pinned to the floor by the inspector, with the strange man
sitting on his legs.

* * * * * 

"There is no witness so sure as the camera," remarked Malcolm Sage as he
gazed from one to the other of two photographs before him, one
representing him holding an automatic to his own head, and the other in
which Sir James was posing as a murderer. "It is strange that it should
be so neglected at Scotland Yard." he added.

Silent and absorbed when engaged upon a problem, Malcolm Sage resented
speech as a sick man resents arrowroot. At other times he seemed to find
pleasure in lengthy monologues, invariably of a professional nature.

"But we use it a lot, Mr. Sage," protested Inspector Wensdale.

"For recording the features of criminals," was the retort. "No,
Wensdale, you are obsessed by the finger-print heresy, quite regardless
of the fact that none but an amateur ever leaves such a thing behind
him, and the amateur is never difficult to trace."

He paused for a moment; but the inspector made no comment.

"The two greatest factors in the suppression of crime," continued
Malcolm Sage, "are photography and finger-prints. Both are in use at
Scotland Yard; but each in place of the other. Finger-prints are
regarded as clues, and photography is a means of identification, whereas
finger-prints are of little use except to identify past offenders, and
photography is the greatest aid to the tracing of the criminal."

Malcolm Sage never failed to emphasise the importance of photography in
the detection of crime. He probably used it more than all other
investigators put together. He contended that a photographic print
established for all time what the eye could only dimly register for the
moment, with the consequent danger of forgetfulness.

As the links in a chain multiplied, it was frequently necessary to refer
to the scene of a crime, or tragedy, and then probably some important
point would crop up, which the eye had not considered of sufficient
importance to dwell upon. By then, in the case of a murder, the body
would have been removed, and everything about it either re-ordered or
obliterated.

Malcolm Sage proceeded to stuff his pipe with tobacco which he drew from
the left-hand pocket of his jacket. He had discovered that a
rubber-lined pocket was the best and safest pouch.

He picked up a third photograph and laid it beside the others. It was a
print of Mr. Challoner's head, showing, marked in white, the course of
the bullet towards the left of the frontal bone.

"A man shooting himself," began Malcolm Sage, "places the pistol in a
position so that the muzzle is directed towards the back of the head. On
the other hand, anyone approaching his victim from behind would have a
tendency to direct the muzzle towards the front of the head. That is why
I got Dawkins to take a photograph of me holding the pistol to my head
and of you holding it from behind. These photographs will constitute the
principal evidence at the trial."

Sir James nodded. He was too interested to interrupt.

"On this enlargement of the wound," continued Malcolm Sage, "you will
see an abrasion on the side nearer the ear, as if the head had suddenly
been jerked backwards between the time of the muzzle being placed
against the temple and the actual firing of the shot."

Thompson leaned across to examine the photograph.

"If the eyes of some one sitting at a table are suddenly and
unexpectedly covered from behind, the natural instinct is to jerk
backwards so that the head may be turned to see who it is. That is
exactly what occurred with Challoner. He jerked backwards, and the
barrel of the pistol grazed the skin and was deflected still more
towards the frontal bone."

Sir James and Thompson exchanged glances. Dawkins stood by, a look of
happiness in his eyes. His beloved camera was justifying itself once
more. Inspector Wensdale breathed heavily.

"Apart from all this, the position of the head on the table, and the way
in which the hand was holding the pistol, not to speak of the curve of
the arm, were unnatural. You get some idea of this from the photograph
that Dawkins took of me, although I could only simulate death by
relaxing the muscles. Again, the head would hardly be likely to twist on
to its side."

"The doctor ought to have seen that," said the inspector.

"Another thing against the theory of suicide was that the second joint
of the first finger was pressing against the trigger. Mr. Challoner was
an expert shot, and would instinctively have used the pad of the finger,
not the second joint.

"The next step," continued Malcolm Sage, "was how could anyone get into
the room and approach Challoner without being heard or sensed."

"He must have been very much absorbed in what he was doing," suggested
Sir James.

Malcolm Sage shook his head, and for a few seconds gazed at the
photographs before him.

"You will remember there was nothing on the table in front of him. I
shall come to that presently. It is very unlikely that a man sitting at
a table would not be conscious of someone approaching him from behind, no
matter how quietly he stepped, unless that man's presence in the room
were quite a normal and natural thing. That gave me the clue to Peters.
He is the only person who could be in the library without Challoner
taking any notice of him. Consequently it was easy for him to approach
his master and shoot him."

"But the locked door, sir," said Thompson.

"That is a very simple matter. An ordinary lead-pencil, with a piece of
string tied to one end, put through the ring of the key to act as a
lever, the cord being passed beneath the door, will lock any door in
existence. The pencil can then be drawn under the door. This will show
how it's done." Malcolm Sage reached across for a sheet of paper, and
drew a rough sketch.

"That is why you examined the under-edge of the door." suggested Sir
James.

Malcolm Sage nodded. "The marks of the cord were clearly defined and
reflected in the mirror. Had the key been touched, it would have
helped."

"How?" asked Inspector Wensdale.

"By means of the string the key is turned only just the point where the
lever falls through the hole to the floor The fingers would turn beyond
that point, not being delicate."

"Mr. Sage, you're a wonder," burst out the inspector.

"I then," proceeded Malcolm Sage, "examined all the other doors in the
house, and I found that of one room, which I after discovered to be
Peters', was heavily scored at the bottom. He had evidently practised
fairly extensively before putting the plan into operation. He had also
done the same thing with the library door, as there were marks of more
than one operation. Furthermore, he was wiser than to take the risk of
so clumsy a tool as a lead-pencil. He used this."

Malcolm Sage drew from his pocket the roll of twine with the thin steel
instrument down the centre. It was a canvas-needle, to the eye of which
the cord was attached.

"This was absolutely safe," he remarked. "Another thing I discovered was
that one lock, and only one lock in the house, had recently been
oiled--that of the library-door."

Sir James nodded his head several times. There was something of
self-reproach in the motion.

"Now," continued Malcolm Sage, "we come back to why a man should be
sitting at a table absorbed in gazing at nothing, and at a time when
most of the household are either in bed or preparing for bed."

"Peters said that he was checking his pass-book," suggested Sir James.

"That is undoubtedly what he was doing," continued Malcolm Sage, "and
Peters removed the pass-book, put it in a drawer, first destroying the
cancelled cheques. He made a blunder in not replacing the pass-book with
something else. That was the last link in the chain," he added.

"1 don't quite see--" began Sir James.

"Perhaps you did not read of a case that was reported from New York some
eighteen months ago. It was very similar to that of Mr. Challoner. A man
was found shot through the head, the door being locked on the inside,
and a verdict of suicide was returned; but there was absolutely a reason
why he should have taken his life. What actually happened was that Mr.
Challoner went to the bank to draw five hundred pounds with which he
hoped to bribe his nephew's fiancee. He trusted to the temptation of
actual money rather than a cheque. When he was at the bank the manager
once more asked him to return his pass-book, which had not been balanced
for several months. He was very dilatory in such matters."

"That is true," said Dane, speaking for the first time.

"That evening he proceeded to compare it with his chequebook. I suspect
that Peters had been forging cheques and he saw here what would lead to
discovery. Furthermore, there was a considerable sum of money in the
safe, and the quarrel between uncle and nephew to divert suspicion.
This, however, was mere conjecture--that trouser-pocket photo. Dawkins,"
said Malcolm Sage, turning to the photographer, who handed it across to
him.

"Now notice the position of these keys. They are put in head foremost,
and do not reach the bottom of the pocket. They had obviously been taken
away and replaced in the pocket as Challoner sat there. Had he gone to
the safe himself and walked back to his chair, the position of the keys
would have been quite different."

Instinctively each man felt in his trousers pocket, and found in his own
bunch of keys a verification of the statement.

"The whole scheme was too calculated and deliberate for an amateur,"
said Malcolm Sage, knocking the ashes out of his pipe on to a brass
ash-tray. "That is what prompted me to get the finger-prints of Peters,
so that I might send them to Scotland Yard to see if anything was known
of him there. The result you have seen."

"We've been on the look-out for him for more than a year," said
Inspector Wensdale. "The New York police are rather interested in him
about a forgery stunt that took place there some time ago."

"I am confident that when Challoner's affairs are gone into there will
be certain cheques which it will be difficult to explain. Then
again--there was the electric light," proceeded Malcolm Sage. "A man
about to blow out his brains would certainly not walk across the room,
switch off the light, and then find his way back to the table."

"That's true enough," said Inspector Wensdale. "On the other hand, a
murderer, who has to stand at a door for at least some seconds, would
not risk leaving on the light, which would attract the attention of
anyone who might by chance be in the hall, or on the stairs."

Inspector Wensdale caught Thompson's left eye, which deliberately closed
and then re-opened. There was a world of meaning in the movement.

"Well, I'm glad I didn't get you down on a fool's errand, Sage," said
Sir James, rising. "I wonder what the local inspector will think."

"He won't," remarked Malcolm Sage; "that is why he assumed it was
suicide."

"Did you suspect Peters was armed?" enquired Sir James.

"I saw the pistol under his left armpit," said Malcolm Sage. "It's well
known with American gun-men as a most convenient place for quick
drawing."

"If it hadn't been for you, Mr. Sage, he'd have got me," said Inspector
Wensdale.

"There'll be a heavy car-full for Tims," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he
walked towards the door.

CHAPTER IV

THE SURREY CATTLE-MAIMING MYSTERY

"DISGUISE," Malcolm Sage had once remarked, "is the chief characteristic
of the detective of fiction. In actual practice it is rarely possible. I
am a case in point. No one but a builder, or an engineer, could disguise
the shape of a head like mine"; as he spoke he had stroked the top of
his head, which rose above his strongly-marked brows like a down-covered
cone.

He maintained that a disguise can always be identified, although not
necessarily penetrated. This in itself would be sufficient to defeat the
end of the disguised man by rendering him an object of suspicion. Few
men can disguise their walk or stance, no matter how clever they might
be with false beards, grease-paint and wigs.

In this Malcolm Sage was a bitter disappointment to William Thompson,
the office junior. His conception of the sleuth had been tinctured by
the vivid fiction with which he beguiled his spare time.

In the heart of William Johnson there were three great motions: his
hero-worship of Malcolm Sage, his romantic devotion to Gladys Norman,
and his wholesome fear of the robustious humour of Tims.

In his more imaginative moments he would create a world in which he was
the recognised colleague of Malcolm Sage, the avowed admirer of Miss
Norman, and the austere employer of Tims--chauffeurs never took liberties
with the hair of their employers, no matter how knut-like it might be
worn.
It was with the object of making sure of the first turret of his castle
in Spain, that William Johnson devoted himself to the earnest study of
what he conceived to be his future profession.

He read voraciously all the detective stories and police reports he came
across. Every moment he could snatch from his official duties he devoted
to some scrap of paper, booklet or magazine. He strove to cultivate his
reasoning powers. Never did a prospective client enter the Malcolm Sage
Bureau without automatically setting into operation William Johnson's
mental induction-coil. With eyes that were covertly keen, he would
examine the visitor as he sat waiting for the two sharp buzzes on the
private telephone which indicated that Malcolm Sage was at liberty.

It mattered little to William Johnson that error seemed to dog his
footsteps; that he had "deduced" a famous pussyfoot admiral as a
comedian addicted to drink; a lord, with a ten-century lineage, as a man
selling something or other; a Cabinet Minister as a company promoter in
the worst sense of the term; nothing could damp his zeal.

Malcolm Sage's "cases" he studied as intimately as he could from his
position as junior; but they disappointed him. They seemed lacking in
that element of drama he found so enthralling in the literature he read
and the films he saw.

Malcolm Sage would enter the office as Malcolm Sage, and leave it as
Malcolm Sage, as obvious and as easily recognisable as St. Paul's
Cathedral. He seemed indifferent to the dramatic possibilities of
disguise.

William Johnson longed for some decrepit and dirty old man or woman to
enter the Bureau, selling boot-laces or bananas and, on being
peremptorily ordered out, to see the figure suddenly straighten itself,
and hear his Chief's well-known voice remark, "So you don't recognise
me, Johnson--good." There was romance.

He yearned for a "property-room," where executive members of the staff
would disguise themselves beyond recognition. In his more imaginative
moments he saw come out from that mysterious room a full-blooded Kaffir,
whereas he knew that only Thompson had entered.

He would have liked to see Miss Norman shed her pretty brunetteness and
reappear as an old apple-woman, who besought him to buy of her wares. He
even saw himself being transformed into a hooligan, or a smart R.A.F.
officer, complete with a tooth-brush moustache and "swish."

In his own mind he was convinced that, given the opportunity, he could
achieve greatness as a master of disguise, rivalling the highly-coloured
stories of Charles Peace. He had even put his theories to the test.

One evening as Miss Norman, who had been working late, was on her way to
Charing Cross Underground Station, she was accosted by a youth with
upturned collar, wearing a shabby cap and a queer Charlie Chaplain
moustache that was not on straight. In a husky voice he enquired his way
to the Strand.

"Good gracious, Johnnie!" she cried involuntarily. "What on earth's the
matter?"

A moment later, as she regarded the vanishing form of William Johnson,
she wanted to kill herself for her lack of tact.

"Poor little Innocent!" she had murmured as she continued down Villiers
Street, and there was in her eyes a reflection of the tears she had seen
spring to those of William Johnson, whose first attempt at disguise had
proved so tragic a failure.

Neither ever referred to the incident subsequently--although for days
William Johnson experienced all the unenviable sensations of Damocles.

From that moment his devotion to Gladys Norman had become almost
worship.

But William Johnson was not deterred, either by his own signal failure
or his chief's opinion. He resolutely stuck to his own ideas, and
continued to expend his pocket money on tinted glasses, false moustaches
and grease-paint; for hidden away in the inner recesses of his mind was
the conviction that it was not quite playing the game, as the game
should be played, to solve a mystery or bring a criminal to justice
without having recourse to disguise.

It was to him as if Nelson had won the Battle of Trafalgar in a soft hat
and a burberry, or Wellington had met Blucher in flannels and silk
socks.

Somewhere in the future he saw himself the head of a "William Johnson
Bureau," and in the illustrated papers a portrait of "Mr. William
Johnson as he is," and beneath it a series of characters that would
rival a Dickens novel, with another legend reading, "Mr. William Johnson
as he appears."

With these day-dreams, the junior at the Malcolm Sage Bureau would
occupy the time when not actually engaged either in the performance of
his by no means arduous duties, or in reading the highly-coloured
detective stories from which he drew his inspiration.

From behind the glass-panelled door would come the tick-tack of Miss
Norman's typewriter, whilst outside droned the great symphony of London,
growing into a crescendo as the door was opened, dying away again as it
fell to once more, guided by an automatic self-closer.

From these reveries William Johnson would be aroused either by
peremptory blasts upon the buzzer of the private telephone, or by the
entry of a client.

One morning, as he was hesitating between assuming the disguise of a
naval commander and a street hawker, a florid little man with purple
jowl and a white, bristling moustache hurtled through the swing-door,
followed by a tall, spare man, whose clothing indicated his clerical
calling.

"Mr. Sage in?" demanded the little man fiercely.

"Mr. Sage is engaged, sir," said the junior, his eyes upon the
clergyman, in whose appearance there was something that caused William
Johnson to like him on the spot. "Interrupt him," said the little,
bristly man. "Tell him that General Sir John Hackblock wishes to see him
immediately." The tone was suggestive of the parade ground rather than a
London office.

At that moment Gladys Norman appeared through the glass-panelled door.
The clergyman immediately removed his hat, the general merely turned as
if changing front receive a new foe.

"Mr. Sage will be engaged for about a quarter of an hour. I am his
secretary," she explained. She, also, looked at the general's companion,
wondering what sort of teeth were behind that gentle, yet firm mouth.
"Perhaps you will take a seat," she added.

This time the clergyman smiled, and Gladys Norman knew that she too
liked him. Sir John looked about him aggressively, blew out his cheeks
several times, then flopped into a chair. His companion also seated
himself, and appeared to become lost in a fit of abstraction.

William Johnson returned to his table and became engrossed, ostensibly
in the exploits of an indestructible trailer of men; but really in a
surreptitious examination of the two callers.

He had just succeeded in deducing from their manner that they were
father and son, and from the boots of the younger that he was low church
and a bad walker, when two sharp blasts on the telephone-buzzer brought
him to his feet and half-way across the office in what was practically
one movement. With Malcolm Sage there were two things to be avoided,
delay in answering a summons, and unnecessary words.

"This way, sir," he said, and led them through the glass-panelled door
to Malcolm Sage's private room.

With a short, jerky movement of his head Malcolm Sage motioned his
visitors to be seated. In that one movement his steel-coloured eyes had
registered a mental photograph of the two men. That glance embraced all
the details; the dark hair of the younger, greying at the temples, the
dreamy grey eyes, the gentle curves of a mouth that was, nevertheless,
capable of great sternness, and the spare, almost lean frame; then the
self-important, over-bearing manner of the older man. "High Anglican,
ascetic, out-of-doors," was Malcolm Sage's mental classification of the
one, thus unconsciously reversing the William Johnson's verdict. The
other he dismissed as a pompous ass.

"You Mr. Sage?" Sir John regarded the bald conical head and gold-rimmed
spectacles as if they had been unpolished buttons on parade.

Malcolm Sage inclined his head slightly, and proceeded to look down at
his fingers spread out on the table before him. After the first
appraising glance, he rarely looked at a client.

"I am Sir John Hackblock; this is my friend, the Rev. Geoffrey Callice."
Again a slight inclination of the head indicated that Malcolm Sage had
heard.

Mr. Llewellyn John would have recognised in Sir John Hackblock the last
man in the world who should have been brought into contact with Malcolm
Sage. The Prime Minister's own policy had been to keep Malcolm Sage from
contact with other Ministers, and thus reduce the number of his
embarrassing resignations.

"I want to consult you about a most damnable outrage," exploded the
general. "It's inconceivable that in this--"

"Will you kindly be as brief as possible?" said Malcolm Sage, fondling
the lobe of his left ear. "I can spare only a few minutes."

Sir John gasped, glared across at him angrily; then, seeming to take
himself in hand, continued: "You've heard of the Surrey cattle-maiming
outrages?" he enquired.

Malcolm Sage nodded.

"Well, this morning a brood-mare of mine was found hacked about in an
unspeakable manner. Oh, the damn scoundrels!" he burst out as he jumped
from his chair and began pacing up and down the room.

"I think it will be better if Mr. Callice tells me the details," said
Malcolm Sage, evenly. "You seem a little over-wrought."

"Over-wrought!" cried Sir John. "Over-wrought! Dammit, so would you be
if you had lost over a dozen beasts." In the army he was known as
"Dammit Hackblock."

Mr. Callice looked across to the general, who, nodding acquiescence,
proceeded to blow his nose violently, as if to bid Malcolm Sage
defiance.

"This morning a favourite mare belonging to Sir John was found mutilated
in a terrible manner--" Mr. Callice paused; there was something in his
voice that caused Malcolm Sage to look up. The gentle look had gone from
his face, his eyes flashed, and his mouth was set in a stern, severe
line. A good preacher, Malcolm Sage decided as he dropped his eyes once
more, and upon his blotting pad proceeded to develop the Pons Asinorum
into a church.

In a voice that vibrated with feeling and suggested great
self-restraint, Mr. Callice proceeded to tell the story of the latest
outrage. How when found that morning the mare was still alive, of the
terrible nature of her injuries, and that the perpetrator had
disappeared leaving no trace.

"Her look, sir! Dammit!" the general broke in. "Her eyes have haunted me
ever since. They--" His voice broke, and he proceeded once more to blow
his nose violently

Mr. Callice went on to explain that after having seen the mare put out
of her misery, Sir John had motored over to his lodgings and insisted
that they should go together to Scotland Yard and demand that something
be done.

"Callice is Chairman of the Watchers' Committee," broke in Sir John.

"I should explain," proceeded Mr. Callice, "that some time ago we formed
ourselves into a committee to patrol the neighbourhood at night in the
hope of tracing the criminal. On the way up Sir John remembered hearing
of you in connection with Department Z and, as he was not satisfied with
his call at Scotland Yard, he decided to come on here and place the
matter in your hands."

"This is the twenty-ninth maiming?" Malcolm Sage remarked, as he
proceeded to add a graveyard to the church.

"Yes, the first occurred some two years ago." Then, as if suddenly
realising what Malcolm Sage's question implied, he added: "You have
interested yourself in the affair?"

"Yes," was the reply. "Tell me what has been done."

"The police seem utterly at fault," continued Mr. Callice. "Locally we
have organised watch-parties. My boys and I have been out night after
night; but without result. I am a scoutmaster," he explained.

"The poor beasts' sufferings are terrible," he continued after a slight
pause. "It is a return to barbarism"; again there was the throb of
indignation in his voice.

"You have discovered nothing?"

"Nothing," was the response, uttered in a tone of deep despondency. "We
have even tried bloodhounds; but without result."

"And now I want you to take up the matter, and don't care what the
expense," burst out Sir John, unable to contain himself.

"I will consider the proposal and let you know," said Malcolm Sage,
evenly. "As it is, my time is fully occupied at present; but later--" He
never lost an opportunity of resenting aggression by emphasising the
democratic tendency of the times. Mr. Llewellyn John had called it
"incipient Bolshevism."

"Later!" cried Sir John in consternation. "Why, dammit, sir, there won't
be an animal left in the county. This thing has been going on for two
years now, and those damn fools at Scotland Yard--"

"If it were not for Scotland Yard," said Malcolm Sage quietly, as he
proceeded to shingle the roof of the church, the graveyard having proved
a failure, "we should probably have to sleep at night with pistols under
our pillows."

"Eh!" Sir John looked across at him with a startled expression.

"Scotland Yard is the headquarters of the most efficient and
highly-organised police force in the world," was the quiet reply.

"But, dammit! if they're so clever why don't they put a stop to this
torturing of poor dumb beasts?" cried the general indignantly. "I've
shown them the man. It's Hinds; I know it. I've just been to see that
fellow Wensdale. Why, dammit! he ought to be cashiered, and I told him
so."

"Who is Hinds?" Malcolm Sage addressed the question to Mr. Callice.

"He used to be Sir John's head gamekeeper---"

"And I discharged him," exploded the general. "I'll shoot a poacher or
his dog; but, dammit! I won't set traps for them," and he puffed out his
cheeks aggressively.

"Hinds used to set traps to save himself the trouble of patrolling the
preserves," explained Mr. Callice, "and one day Sir John discovered him
actually watching the agonies of a dog caught across the hind-quarters
in a man-trap." Again there was a wave of feeling in the voice, and a
stern set about the mouth.

"It's Hinds right enough," cried the general with conviction. "The man's
a brute. Now will you--?"

I will let you know as soon as possible whether or not I can take up the
enquiry," said Malcolm Sage, rising. "That is the best I can promise."

"But--" began Sir John; then he stopped and stared at Malcolm Sage as he
moved towards the door.

"Dammit! I don't care what it costs," he spluttered explosively. "It'll
be worth five hundred pounds to the man who catches the scoundrel. Poor
Betty," he added in a softer tone.

"I will write to you shortly," said Malcolm Sage. There was dismissal in
his tone.

With darkened jowl and bristling moustache Sir John strutted towards the
door. Mr. Callice paused to shake hands with Malcolm Sage, and then
followed the general, who, with a final glare at William Johnson, as he
held open the swing-door, passed out into the street, convinced that now
the country was no longer subject to conscription it would go rapidly to
the devil.

For the next half-hour Malcolm Sage pored over a volume of
press cuttings containing accounts of previous cattle-maimings.

Following his usual custom in such matters, he had caused the newspaper
accounts of the various mutilations to be collected and pasted in a
press-cutting book. Sooner or later he had determined to devote time to
the affair.

Without looking up from the book he pressed three times in rapid
succession a button of the private telephone. Instantly Gladys Norman
appeared, notebook in hand. She had been heard to remark that if she
were dead "three on the buzzer" would bring her to life again.

"Whitaker and Inspector Wensdale," said Malcolm Sage, his eyes still on
the book before him.

When deep in a problem Malcolm Sage's economy in words made it difficult
for anyone but his own staff to understand his requirements.

Without a word the girl vanished and, a moment later, William Johnson
placed Whitaker's Almanack on the table, then he in turn disappeared as
silently as Gladys Norman.

Malcolm Sage turned to the calendar, and for some time studied the pages
devoted to the current month (June) and July. As he closed the book
there were three buzzes from the house telephone, the signal that he was
through to the number required. Drawing the pedestal instrument towards
him, he put the receiver to his ear.

"That Inspector Wensdale?-Yes! Mr. Sage speaking. It's about the
cattle-maiming business.-I've just heard of it. I've not decided yet. I
want a large-scale map of the district, with the exact spot of each
outrage indicated, and the date.-To-morrow will do.-Yes, come round.
Give me half an hour with the map first."

Malcolm Sage replaced the receiver as the buzzer sounded announcing
another client.

* * * * * 

"So there is nothing?" Malcolm Sage looked up enquiringly from the map
before him.

"Nothing that even a stage detective could turn into a clue," said
Inspector Wensdale, a big, clean-shaven man with hard, alert eyes.

Malcolm Sage continued his study of the map.

"Confound those magazine detectives!" the inspector burst out
explosively. "They've always got a dust-pan full of clues ready made for
'em."

"To say nothing of finger-prints," said Malcolm Sage dryly. He never
could resist a sly dig at Scotland Yard's faith in finger-prints as
clues instead of means of identification.

"It's a bit awkward for me, too, Mr. Sage," continued the inspector,
confidentially. "Last time The Daily Telegram went for us because--"

"You haven't found a dust-pan full of clues?" suggested Malcolm Sage,
who was engaged in forming geometrical designs with spent matches.

"They're getting a bit restive, too, at the Yard," he continued. He was
too disturbed in mind for flippancy. "It was this cattle-maiming
business that sent poor old Scott's number up," he added, referring to
Detective Inspector Scott's failure to solve the mystery. "Now the
general's making a terrible row. Threatens me with the Commissioner."

For some seconds Malcolm Sage devoted himself to his designs. "Any
theory?" he enquired at length, without looking up.

"I've given up theorising," was the dour reply.

In response to a further question as to what had been done, the
inspector proceeded to detail how the whole neighbourhood had been
scoured after each maiming, and how, night after night, watchers had
been posted throughout the district but without result.

"I have had men out night and day," continued the inspector gloomily.
"He's a clever devil, whoever he is. It's my opinion the man's a
lunatic," he added.

Malcolm Sage looked up slowly.

"What makes you think that?" he asked.

"His cunning, for one thing," was the reply. "Then it's so senseless.
No," he added with conviction, "he's no more an ordinary man than
Jack-the-Ripper was."

He went on to give details of his enquiries among those living in the
district. There was absolutely nothing to attach even the remotest
suspicion to any particular person. Rewards had been offered for
information; but all without producing the slightest evidence or clue.

"This man Hinds?" enquired Malcolm Sage, looking about for more matches.

"Oh! the general's got him on the brain. Absolutely nothing in it. I've
turned him inside out. Why, even the Deputy Commissioner had a go at
him, and if he can get nothing out of a man, there's nothing to get
out."

"Well," said Malcolm Sage rising, "keep the fact to yourself that I am
interested. I suppose, if necessary, you could arrange for twenty or
thirty men to run down there?" he queried.

"The whole blessed Yard if you like, Mr. Sage," was the feeling reply.

"We'll leave it at that for the present then. By the way, if you happen
to think you see me in the neighbourhood you needn't remember that we
are acquainted."

The inspector nodded comprehendingly and, with a heart lightened
somewhat of its burden, he departed. He had an almost child-like faith
in Malcolm Sage.

For half an hour Malcolm Sage sat engrossed in the map of the scene of
the maimings. On it were a number of red-ink crosses with figures
beneath. In the left-hand bottom corner was a list of the various
outrages, with the date and the time, as near as could be approximated,
against each.

The numbers in the bottom corner corresponded with those beneath the
crosses. From time to time he referred to the two copies of Whitaker's
Almanack open before him, and made notes upon the writing-pad at his
side. Finally he ruled a square upon the map and then drew two lines
diagonally from corner to corner. Then-without looking up from the map,
he pressed the buttons of the private-telephone. "Tims," he said through
the mouthpiece.

Five minutes later Malcolm Sage's chauffeur was standing opposite his
Chief's table, ready to go anywhere and do anything.

"To-morrow will be Sunday, Tims."

"Yessir."

"A day of rest."

"Yessir!"

"We are going out to Hempdon, near Selford," Malcolm Sage continued,
pointing to the map. Tims stepped forward and bent over to identify the
spot. "The car will break down. It will take you or any other mechanic
two hours to put it right."

"Yessir," said Tims, straightening himself.

"You understand," said Malcolm Sage, looking at him sharply, "you or any
other mechanic?"

"Yessir," repeated Tims, his face sphinx-like in its lack of expression.

He was a clean-shaven, fleshless little man who, had he not been a
chauffeur, would probably have spent his life with a straw between his
teeth, hissing lullabies to horses.

"I shall be ready at nine," said Malcolm Sage, and with another "Yessir"
Tims turned to go.

"And Tims."

"Yessir." He about-faced smartly on his right heel. "You might apologise
for me to Mrs. Tims for depriving her of you on Sunday. Take her out to
dinner on Monday and charge it to me."

"Thank you, sir, very much, sir," said Tims, his face expressionless.

"That is all, Tims, thank you."

Tims turned once more and left the room. As he walked towards the outer
door he winked at Gladys Norman and, with a sudden dive, made a
frightful riot of William Johnson's knut-like hair. Then, without change
of expression, he passed out to tune up the car for its run on the
morrow.

Malcolm Sage's staff knew that when "the Chief" was what Tims called
"chatty" he was beginning to see light, so Tims whistled loudly at his
work: for he, like all his colleagues, was pleased when "the Chief" saw
reason to be pleased.

The following morning, as they trooped out of church, the inhabitants of
Hempdon were greatly interested in the breakdown of a large car, which
seemed to defy the best efforts of the chauffeur to coax into movement.
The owner drank cider at the Spotted Woodpigeon and talked pleasantly
with the villagers, who, on learning that he had never even heard of the
Surrey cattle-maimings, were at great pains to pour information and
theories into his receptive ear.

The episode quite dwarfed the remarkable sermon preached by Mr. Callice,
in which he exhorted his congregation to band themselves together to
track down him who was maiming and torturing God's creatures, and
defying the Master's merciful teaching.

It was Tom Hinds, assisted by a boy scout, who conducted Malcolm Sage to
the scene of the latest outrage. It was Hinds who described the position
of the mare when she was discovered, and it was he who pocketed two
half-crowns as the car moved off Londonwards.

That evening Malcolm Sage sat long and late at his table, engrossed in
the map that Inspector Wensdale had sent him.

Finally he subjected to a thorough and exhaustive examination the
thumb-nail of his right hand. It was as if he saw in its polished
surface the tablets of destiny.

The next morning he wrote a letter that subsequently caused Sir John
Hackblock to explode into a torrent of abuse of detectives in general,
and one investigator in particular. It stated in a few words that, owing
to circumstances over which he had no control, Malcolm Sage would not be
able to undertake the enquiry with which Sir John Hackblock had honoured
him until the end of the month following. He hoped, however, to
communicate further with his client soon after the 23rd of that month.

CHAPTER V

INSPECTOR WENSDALE IS SURPRISED

NEARLY a month had elapsed, and the cattle-maiming mystery seemed as far
off solution as ever. The neighbourhood in which the crimes had been
committed had once more settled down to its usual occupations, and
Scotland Yard had followed suit.

Sir John Hackblock had written to the Chief Commissioner and a question
had been asked in the House.

Inspector Wensdale's colleagues had learned that it was dangerous to
mention in his presence the words "cattle" or "maiming." The inspector
knew that the affair was referred to as "Wensdale's Waterloo," and his
failure to throw light on the mystery was beginning to tell upon his
nerves.

For three weeks he had received no word from Malcolm Sage. One morning
on his arrival at Scotland Yard he was given a telephone message asking
him to call round at the Bureau during the day.

"Nothing new?" queried Malcolm Sage ten minutes later, as the inspector
was shown into his room by Thompson.

The inspector shook a gloomy head and dropped his heavy frame into a
chair.

Malcolm Sage indicated with a nod that Thompson was to remain.

"Can you borrow a couple of covered government lorries?" queried Malcolm
Sage.

"A couple of hundred if necessary," said the inspector dully.

"Two will be enough," was the dry rejoinder. "Now listen carefully,
Wensdale. I want you to have fifty men housed some ten miles away from
Hempdon on the afternoon of the 22nd. Select men who have done scouting,
ex-boy scouts, for preference. Don't choose any with bald heads or with
very light hair. See that they are wearing dark clothes and dark shirts
and, above all, no white collars. Take with you a good supply of burnt
cork such as is used by nigger minstrels."

Malcolm Sage paused, and for the fraction of a second there was a
curious fluttering at the corners of his mouth.

Inspector Wensdale was sitting bolt upright in his chair gazing at
Malcolm Sage as if he had been requested to supply two lorry-loads of
archangels.

"It will be moonlight, and caps might fall off," explained Malcolm Sage.
"You cannot very well ask a man to black his head. Above all," he
continued evenly, "be sure you give no indication to anyone why you want
the men, and tell them not to talk. You follow me?" he queried.

"Yes," said the inspector, "I-I follow."

"Don't go down Hempdon way again, and tell no one in the neighbourhood;
no one, you understand, is to know anything about it. Don't tell the
general, for instance."

"Him!" There was a world of hatred and contempt in the inspector's
voice. Then he glanced a little oddly at Malcolm Sage.

Malcolm Sage went on to elaborate his instructions. The men were to be
divided into two parties, one to form a line north of the scene of the
last outrage, and the other to be spread over a particular zone some
three miles the other side of Hempdon. They were to blacken their faces
and hands, and observe great care to show no light colouring in
connection with their clothing. Thus they would be indistinguishable
from their surroundings.

"You will go with one lot," said Malcolm Sage to the inspector, "and my
man Finlay with the other. Thompson and I will be somewhere in the
neighbourhood. You will be given a password for purposes of
identification. You understand?"

"I think so," said the inspector in a tone which was suggestive that he
was very far from understanding.

"I'll have everything typed out for you, and scale-plans of where you
are to post your men. Above all, don't take anyone into your
confidence."

Inspector Wensdale nodded and looked across at Thompson, as if to assure
himself that after all it really was not some huge joke.

"If nothing happens on the 22nd, we shall carry on on the second, third,
and fourth nights. In all probability we shall catch our man on the
23rd."

"Then you know who it is?" spluttered the inspector in surprise.

"We shall know on the 23rd," said Malcolm Sage dryly, as he rose and
walked towards the door. Taking the hint, Inspector Wensdale rose also
and, with the air of a man not yet quite awake, passed out.

"You had better see him to-morrow, Thompson," said Malcolm Sage, "and
explain exactly how the men are to be disposed. Make it clear that none
must show themselves. If we actually see anyone in the act, they must
track him, not try to take him." Thompson nodded his head
comprehendingly. "Make it clear that they are there to watch; but I
doubt if they'll see anything," he added.

At eleven o'clock on the night of July the 23rd, two motor lorries
glided slowly along some three miles distant from one another. From
their interiors silent forms dropped noiselessly on to the moon-white
road. A moment later, slipping into the shadow of the hedge, they
disappeared. All the previous night men had watched and waited; but
nothing had happened. Now they were to try again.

Overhead the moon was climbing the sky, struggling against masses of
cloud that from time to time swung themselves across her disc.

In the village of Hempdon all was quiet. The last light had been
extinguished, the last dog had sent forth a final challenging bark,
hoping that some neighbouring rival would answer and justify a volume of
canine protest.

On the western side of the highway, and well behind the houses, two
figures were standing in the shadow cast by a large oak. Their faces and
hands were blackened, rendering them indistinguishable from their
surroundings.

One wore a shade over a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, a precaution
against the moonlight being reflected on the lenses.

Half an hour, an hour, an hour and a half passed. They waited. Presently
one gripped the arm of the other and pointed. At the back of the house
immediately opposite there was a slight movement in the shade cast by a
hedge. Then the line readjusted itself and the shadow vanished. A moment
later it reappeared in a patch of moonlight, looking like a large dog.

Stooping low, Malcolm Sage and Thompson followed the dog-like form,
themselves taking advantage of every patch of shadow and cover that
offered.

The mysterious form moved along deliberately and without haste, now
disappearing in the shadow cast by some tree or bush, now reappearing
once more on the other side.

It was obviously taking advantage of everything that tended to conceal
its movements.

Once it disappeared altogether, and for five minutes the two trackers
lay on their faces and waited.

"Making sure he's not being followed," whispered Thompson, and Malcolm
Sage nodded.

Presently the figure appeared once more and, as if reassured continued
its slow and deliberate way.

Once a dog barked, a short, sharp bark of uncertainty. Again there was
no sign of the figure for some minutes. Then it moved out from the
surrounding shadows and continued its stealthy progress.

Having reached the outskirts of the village, it continued its crouching
course along the western side of the hedge flanking the roadside.

Malcolm Sage and Thompson followed under the shadow of a hedge running
parallel.

For a mile the slow and laborious tracking continued. Suddenly Malcolm
Sage stopped. In the field on their right, two horses were grazing in the
moonlight. It was the scene of the tragedy of the month previous!

For some minutes they waited expectantly. Suddenly Malcolm Sage gripped
Thompson's arm and pointed. From under the hedge a dark patch was moving
slowly towards the nearer of the two animals. It was apparently the form
of a man, face downwards, wriggling along inch by inch without bending a
limb.

"Get across. Cut off his retreat," whispered Sage. "Look out for the
knife."

Thompson nodded and slid away under cover of the hedge separating the
field in which the horses were from that along which the watchers had
just passed.

Slowly the form approached its quarry. Once the horse lifted its head as
though scenting danger; but the figure was approaching up-wind.

Suddenly it raised itself, appearing once more like a large dog. Then
with a swift, panther-like movement it momentarily disappeared in the
shadow cast by the horse.

There was a muffled scream and a gurgle, as the animal collapsed, then
silence.

A minute later the form seemed to detach itself from the carcase and
wriggled along towards the hedge, a dark patch upon the grass.

Malcolm Sage was already half-way through the second field, keeping well
under the shelter of the hedge. He reached a spot where the intersecting
hedge joined that running parallel with the high road. There was a hole
sufficiently large for a man to crawl through from one field to the
other. By this Malcolm Sage waited, a life-preserver in his hand.

At the sound of the snapping of a twig, he gripped his weapon; a moment
later a round, dark shape appeared through the hole in the hedge.
Without hesitating Malcolm Sage struck.

There was a sound, half grunt, half sob, and Malcolm Sage was on his
feet gazing down at the strangest creature he had ever encountered.

Clothed in green, its face and hands smeared with some pigment of the
same colour, lay the figure of a tall man. Round the waist was a belt
from which was suspended in its case a Gurkha's kukri.

Malcolm Sage bent down to unbuckle the belt. He turned the man on his
back. As he did so he saw that in his hand was a small, collapsible tin
cup covered with blood, which also stained his lips and chin, and
dripped from his hands, whilst the front of his clothing was stained in
dark patches.

"I wonder who he is," muttered Thompson, as he gazed down at the strange
figure.

"Locally he is known as the Rev. Geoffrey Callice," remarked Malcolm
Sage quietly.

And Thompson whistled.

"And that damned scoundrel has been fooling us for years." Sir John
Hackblock glared at Inspector Wensdale as if it were he who was
responsible for the deception.

They were seated smoking in Sir John's library after a particularly
early breakfast.

"I always said it was the work of a madman," said the inspector in
self-defence.

"Callice is no more mad than I am," snapped Sir John. "I wish I were
going to try him," he added grimly. "The scoundrel! To think--" His
indignation choked him.

"He is not mad in the accepted sense," said Malcolm Sage as he sucked
meditatively at his pipe. "I should say that it is a case of
race-memory."

"Race-memory! Dammit! what's that?" Sir John Hackblock snapped out the
words in his best parade-ground manner. He was more purple than ever
about the jowl, and it was obvious that he was prepared to disagree with
everyone and everything. As Lady Hackblock and her domestics would have
recognised without difficulty, Sir John was angry.

"How the devil did you spot the brute?" he demanded, as Malcolm Sage did
not reply immediately.

"Race-memory," he remarked, ignoring the question, "is to man what
instinct is to animals; it defies analysis or explanation." Sir John
stared; but it was Inspector Wensdale who spoke. "But how did you manage
to fix the date, Mr. Sage?" he enquired.

"By the previous outrages," was the reply.

"The previous outrages!" cried Sir John. "Dammit! how did they help
you?"

"They all took place about the time the moon was at full. There were
twenty-eight in all." Malcolm Sage felt in his pocket and drew out a
paper. "These are the figures."

In his eagerness Sir John snatched the paper from his hand, and with
Inspector Wensdale looking over his shoulder, read:

Day before full moon – 4 Full moon – 15 Day after full moon – 7 Second
day after – 2 Total-28

"Well, I'll damned!" exclaimed Sir John, looking up from the paper at
Malcolm Sage, as if he had solved the riddle of the universe. The
inspector's only comment was a quick indrawing of breath.

Sir John continued to stare at Malcolm Sage, the paper stiffly held in
his hand.

"That made matters comparatively easy," continued Malcolm Sage. "The
outrages were clearly not acts of revenge on any particular person; for
they involved nine different owners. They were obviously the work of
someone subject to a mania, or obsession, which gripped him when the
moon was at the full."

"But how did you fix the actual spot?" burst out Inspector Wensdale
excitedly.

"Each of the previous acts had been either in a diametrically opposite
direction from that immediately preceding it, or practically on the same
spot. For instance, the first three were north, east, and south of
Hempdon, in the order named. Then the cunning of the perpetrator
prompted him to commit a fourth, not to the west; but to the south,
within a few yards of the previous act. The criminal argued, probably
subconsciously, that he would be expected to complete the square."

"But what made you fix on Hempdon as the headquarters of the
blackguard?" enquired Sir John.

"That was easy," remarked Malcolm Sage, polishing the thumb-nail of his
left hand upon the palm of his right.

"Easy!" The exclamation burst. involuntarily from the inspector.

"You supplied me with a large-scale map showing the exact spot where
each of the previous maimings had taken place. I drew a square to
embrace the whole. Lines drawn diagonally from corner to corner gave me
the centre of gravity."

"But--" began the inspector.

Ignoring the interruption Malcolm Sage continued. "A man committing a
series of crimes from a given spot was bound to spread his operations
over a fairly wide area in order to minimise the chance of discovery.
The longer the period and the larger the number of crimes, the greater
the chance of his being located somewhere near the centre of his
activities."

"Well, I'm damned!" remarked Sir John for the second time. Then suddenly
turning to Inspector Wensdale, "Dammit!" he exploded, "why didn't you
think of that?"

"There was, of course, the chance of his striking in another direction,"
continued Malcolm Sage, digging into the bowl of his pipe with a
penknife, "so I placed the men in such a way that if he did so he was
bound to be seen."

Inspector Wensdale continued to gaze at him, eager to hear more.

"But what was that you said about race-memory?" Sir John had quietened
down considerably since Malcolm Sage had begun his explanation.

"I should describe it as a harking back to an earlier phase. It is to
the mind what atavism is to the body. In breeding, for instance"--Malcolm
Sage looked across to Sir John--"you find that an offspring will manifest
characteristics, or a taint, that is not to be found in either sire or
dam."

Sir John nodded.

"Well, race-memory is the same thing in regard to the mental plane, a
sort of subconscious wave of reminiscence. In Callice's case it was in
all probability the memory of some sacrificial rite of his ancestors
centuries ago."

"A case of heredity."

"Broadly speaking, yes. At the full moon this particular tribe, whose
act Callice has reproduced, was in the habit of slaughtering some beast,
or beasts, and drinking the blood, probably with the idea of absorbing
their strength or their courage. Possibly the surroundings at Hempdon
were similar to those where the act of sacrifice was committed in the
past."

"It must be remembered that Callice was an ascetic, and consequently
highly subjective. Therefore when the wave of reminiscence is taken in
conjunction with the surroundings, the full moon and his high state of
subjectivity, it is easy to see that material considerations might
easily be obliterated. That is why I watched the back entrance to his
lodgings."

"And all the time we were telling him our plans," murmured the inspector
half to himself.

"Yes, and he would go out hunting himself," said Sir John. "Damn funny,
I call it. Anyway, he'll get seven years at least."

"When he awakens he will remember nothing about it. You cannot punish a
man for a subconscious crime." Sir John snorted indignantly; but
Inspector Wensdale nodded his head slowly and regretfully.

"Anyway, I owe you five hundred pounds," said Sir John to Malcolm
Sage; "and, dammit! it's worth it," he added.

Malcolm Sage shrugged his shoulders as he rose to go. "I was sorry to
have to hit him," he said regretfully, "but I was afraid of that knife.
A man can do a lot of damage with a thing like that. That's why I told
you not to let your men attempt to take him, Wensdale."

"How did you know what sort of knife it was?" asked the inspector.

"Oh! I motored down here, and the car broke down. Incidentally I made a
lot of acquaintances, including Callice's patrol-leader, a bright lad.
He told me a lot of things about Callice and his ways. A remarkable
product the boy scout," he added. "Kipling calls him 'the friend of all
the world.'"

Sir John looked across at Inspector Wensdale, who was strongly tempted
to wink.

"Don't think too harshly of Callice," said Malcolm Sage as he shook
hands with' Sir John. "It might easily have been you or I, had we been a
little purer in mind and thought."

And with that he passed out of the room with Inspector Wensdale followed
by Sir John Hackblock, who was endeavouring to interpret the exact
meaning of the remark.

"They said he was a clever devil," he muttered as he returned to the
library after seeing his guests off, "and, dammit! they were right."

CHAPTER VI

THE STOLEN ADMIRALTY MEMORANDUM

WELL," cried Tims, one Saturday night, as he pushed open the kitchen
door of the little flat he occupied over the garage. "How's the cook,
the stove, and the supper?"

"I'm busy," said Mrs. Tims, a little, fair woman, with blue eyes, an
impertinent nose, and the inspiration of neatness in her dress, as she
altered the position of a saucepan on the stove and put two plates in
the oven to warm.

This was the invariable greeting between husband and wife. Tims went up
behind her, gripped her elbows to her side, and kissed her noisily.

"I told you I was busy," she said.

"You did, Emmelina," he responded. "I heard you say so, and how's his
Nibs?"

The last remark was addressed to an object that was crawling towards him
with incoherent cries and gurgles of delight. Stooping down, Tims picked
up his eighteen-months-old-son and held him aloft, chuckling and
mouthing his glee.

"You'll drop him one of these days," said Mrs. Tims, "and then there'll
be a pretty hullaballoo."

"Well, he's fat enough to bounce," was the retort. "Ain't you, Jimmy?"

Neither Tims nor Mrs. Tims seemed to be conscious that without
variations these same remarks had been made night after night, week
after week, month after month.

"How's Mr. Sage?" was the question with which Mrs. Tims always followed
the reference to the bouncing of Jimmy.

"Like Johnny Walker, still going strong," glibly came the reply, just as
it came every other night. "He was asking about you to-day," added Tims.

"About me?" Mrs. Tims turned, all attention, her cooking for the time
forgotten.

"Yes, wanted to know when I was going to divorce you."

"Don't be silly, Jim," she cried. "What did he say, really?" she added,
as she turned once more to the stove.

"Oh! He asked if you were well," replied Tims, more interested in
demonstrating with the person of his son how an aeroplane left the
ground than in his wife's question.

"Anything else?" enquired Mrs. Tims, prodding a potato with a fork to
see if it were done.

Tims was not deceived by the casual tone in which the question was
asked. He was wont to say that, if his wife wanted his back teeth, she
would get them.

"Nothing, my dear, only to ask if his Nibs was flourishin'," and with a
gurgle of delight the aeroplane soared towards the ceiling. Mrs. Tims
had not forgotten the time when Malcolm Sage visited her several times
when she was ill with pneumonia. She never tired of telling her friends
of his wonderful knowledge of household affairs. He had talked to her of
cooking, of childish ailments, of shopping, in a way that had amazed
her. His knowledge seemed universal. He had explained to her among other
things how cracknel biscuits were made and why croup was so swift in its
action.

Tims vowed that the Chief had done her more good than the doctor, and
from that day Malcolm Sage had occupied chief place in Mrs. Tims's
valhalla.

"Quaint sort o' chap, the Chief," Tims would remark sometimes in
connection with some professional episode.

"Pity you're not as quaint," would flash back the retort from Mrs. Tims,
whose conception of loyalty was more literal than that of her husband.

Supper finished and his Nibs put to bed, Tims proceeded to enjoy his
pipe and evening paper, whilst Mrs. Tims got out her sewing. From time
to time Tims's eyes would wander over towards the telephone in the
corner.

Finally he folded up the paper, and proceeded to knock out the ashes
from his pipe preparatory to going to bed. His eyes took a last look at
the telephone just as Mrs. Tims glanced up.

"Don't sit there watching that telephone!" she cried, "anyone would
think you were wanting--"

“Brrrrrrr-brrrrrrr-brrrrr," went the bell. "Now perhaps you're happy,"
cried Mrs. Tims as he rose to answer the call, whilst she put on the
kettle to make hot coffee to fill the thermos flasks without which she
never allowed the car to go out at night. It was her tribute to "the
Chief."

In his more expansive moments Malcolm Sage would liken himself to a
general practitioner in a disease-infected district. It is true that
there was no speaking-tube, with its terrifying whistle, a few feet from
his head; but the telephone by his bedside was always liable to arouse
him from sleep at any hour of the night.

As Tims had folded up his newspaper with a view to bed Malcolm Sage was
removing his collar before the mirror on his dressing-table, when his
telephone bell rang. Rogers, his man, looked interrogatingly at his
master, who, shaking his head, passed over to the instrument and took up
the receiver.

"Yes, this is Malcolm Sage-Speaking-Yes." Then for a few minutes he
listened with an impassive face. "I'll be off within ten minutes-The
Towers, Holdingham, near Guildford--I understand."

While he was speaking, Rogers, a little sallow-faced man with fish-like
eyes and expressionless face, had moved over to the other telephone and
was droning in a monotonous, un-inflected voice, "Chief wants car in
five minutes."

It was part of Malcolm Sage's method to train his subordinates to
realise the importance of intelligent and logical inference.

Returning to the dressing-table, Malcolm Sage took up another collar,
slipped a tie between the fold, and proceeded to put it on. As he did so
he gave instructions to Rogers, who, note-book in hand, and with an
expression of indifference that seemed to say "Kismet," silently
recorded his instructions.

"My address will be The Towers, Holdingham, near Guildford. Be on the
look-out for messages,"

Without a word Rogers closed the book and, picking up a suit-case, which
was always ready for emergencies, he left the room. Two minutes later
Malcolm Sage followed and, without a word, entered the closed car that
had just drawn up before his flat in the Adelphi.

Rogers returned to the flat, switched the telephone on to his own room,
and prepared himself for the night, whilst Malcolm Sage, having eaten a
biscuit and drunk some of Mrs. Tims's hot coffee, lay back to sleep as
the car rushed along the Portsmouth road.

In the library at The Towers three men were seated, their faces lined
and drawn as if some great misfortune had suddenly descended upon them;
yet their senses were alert.

"He ought to be here any minute now," said Mr. Llewellyn John, the Prime
Minister, taking out his watch for the hundredth time.

Sir Lyster Grayne, First Lord of the Admiralty, shook his head. "He
should do it in an hour," said Lord Beamdale, the Secretary of War, "if
he's got a man who knows the road."

"Sage is sure--" began Sir Lyster; then he stopped abruptly, and turned
in the direction of the further window.

A soft tapping as of a finger-nail upon a pane of glass was clearly
distinguishable. It ceased for a few seconds, re-commenced, then ceased
again.

Mr. Llewellyn John looked first at Sir Lyster and then on towards where
Lord Beamdale sat, heavy of frame and impassive of feature.

Sir Lyster rose and walked quickly over to the window. As he approached
the tapping re-commenced. Swinging back the curtain he disappeared into
the embrasure.

The others heard the sound of the window being raised and then closed
again. A moment later Malcolm Sage appeared, followed by Sir Lyster, who
once more drew the curtain.

At the sight of Malcolm Sage, Mr. Llewellyn John's features relaxed from
their drawn, tense expression. A look of relief flashed momentarily into
Lord Beamdale's fish-like eyes.

"Thank God you've come, Sage!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, with a sigh of
relief as he grasped Malcolm Sage's hand as if it had been a lifebelt
and he a drowning man. "I think you have met Lord Beamdale," he added.

Malcolm Sage bowed to the War Minister, then with great deliberation
removed his overcoat, carefully folded it, and placed it upon a chair,
laying his cap on top. He then selected a chair at the table that gave
him a clear view of the faces of the three Ministers, and sat down.

"Why did you come to the window?" enquired Sir Lyster as he resumed his
own seat. "Did you know this was the library?"

"I saw a crack of light between the curtains," replied Malcolm Sage. "It
may be desirable that no one should know I have been," he added.

"Something terrible has happened, Sage," broke in the Prime Minister,
his voice shaking with excitement. He had with difficulty contained
himself whilst Malcolm Sage was taking off his overcoat and explaining
his reason for entering by the window. "It's-it's -" His voice broke.

"Perhaps Sir Lyster will tell me, or Lord Beamdale," suggested Malcolm
Sage, looking from one to the other. Lord Beamdale shook his head.

"Just a bare outline, Sir Lyster," said Malcolm Sage, spreading out his
fingers before him.

Slowly, deliberately, and with perfect self-possession, Sir Lyster
explained what had happened.

"The Prime Minister and Lord Beamdale came down with me on Thursday
night to spend the week-end," he said. "Incidentally we were to discuss
a very important matter connected with this country's-er-foreign
policy." The hesitation was only momentary. "Lord Beamdale brought with
him a document of an extremely private nature. This I had sent to him
earlier in the week for consideration and comment.

"If that document were to get to a certain Embassy in London no one can
foretell the calamitous results. It might even result in another war, if
not now certainly later. It was, I should explain, of a private and
confidential nature, and consequently quite frankly expressed."

"And you must remember--" began Mr. Llewellyn John excitedly.

"One moment, sir," said Malcolm Sage quietly, without looking up from an
absorbed contemplation of a bronze letter-weight fashioned in the form
of a sphinx.

Mr. Llewellyn John sank back into his chair and Sir Lyster resumed.

"Just over an hour and a half ago, that is to say soon after eleven
o'clock, it was discovered that the document in question was missing and
in its place had been substituted a packet of sheets of blank paper."

"Unless it's found, Sage," cried Mr. Llewellyn John, jumping from his
chair in his excitement, "the consequences are too awful to
contemplate."

For a few seconds he strode up and down the room, then turning to his
chair, sank back into its comfortable depths. "Where was the document
kept?" enquired Malcolm Sage, his long, sensitive fingers stroking the
back of the sphinx.

"In the safe," replied Sir Lyster, indicating with a nod a small safe
let into the wall.

"You are in the habit of using it for valuable documents?" queried
Malcolm Sage.

"As a matter of fact very seldom. It is mostly empty," was the reply.

"Why?"

"I have a larger safe in my dressing-room, in which I keep my papers.
During the day I occasionally use this to save going up and down
stairs."

"Where do you keep the key?"

"When there is anything in the safe I always carry it about with me."

"And at other times?"

"Sometimes in a drawer in my writing-table," said Sir Lyster; "but
generally I have it on me."

"When was the document put into the safe?"

"At a quarter to eight to-night, just as the second dressing-gong was
sounding."

"And you yourself put it in, locked the door, and have retained the key
ever since?" Malcolm Sage had exhausted the interest of the sphinx and
was now drawing diagrams with his forefinger upon the morocco surface of
the table.

Sir Lyster nodded. "I put the key in the pocket of my evening vest when
I changed," he said. "After the other guests had retired, the Prime
Minister raised a point that necessitated reference to the document
itself. It was then I discovered the substitution."

But for that circumstance the safe would not have been opened until
when?" queried Malcolm Sage.

Late to-night, when I should have transferred the packet to the safe in
my dressing-room."

"Would you have examined the contents?"

"No. It is my rule to cut adrift from official matters from dinner-time
on Saturday until after breakfast on Monday It was only in deference to
the Prime Minister's particular wish that we referred to the document
to-night."

"I take it that the rule you mention is known to your guests and
servants?"

"Certainly."

"There is no doubt that it was the document itself that you put in the
safe?"

"None; the Prime Minister and Lord Beamdale saw me do it."

"No doubt whatever," corroborated Mr. Llewellyn John, whilst Lord
Beamdale wagged his head like a mandarin.

"Does anyone else know that it is missing?" asked Malcolm Sage after a
short pause.

Sir Lyster shook his head.

"Only we three; and, of course, the thief," he added.

Malcolm Sage nodded. He had tired of the diagrams, and now sat stroking
the back of his head.

"Has anyone left the house since the discovery; that is, as far as you
know?" he queried at length.

"No one," said Sir Lyster.

"The servants, of course, have access to this room?"

"Yes; but only Walters, my butler, is likely to come here in the
evening, except, of course, my secretary."

"Where does he dine?"

'"Miss Blair," corrected Sir Lyster, "always takes her meals in her own
sitting-room, where she works. It is situated at the back of the house
on the ground floor."

Again Malcolm Sage was silent, this time for a longer period.

"So far as you know, then," he said at length, addressing Sir Lyster,
"only three people in the house were acquainted with the existence of
the document; you, the Prime Minister, and Lord Beamdale."

Sir Lyster inclined his head.

"You are certain of that?" Malcolm Sage looked up swiftly and keenly.
"Your secretary and Lady Grayne, for instance, they knew nothing about
it?"

"Nothing; of that I am absolutely certain," replied Sir Lyster coldly.

"And the nature of the document?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

Sir Lyster looked across at Mr. Llewellyn John, who turned
interrogatingly to Lord Beamdale. "I am afraid it is of too private a
nature to--" he hesitated.

"If you require me to trace something," said Malcolm Sage evenly, "you
must at least tell me what that something is."

"It is a document which--" began Lord Beamdale, then he, too, paused.

"But, surely, Sage," broke in Mr. Llewellyn John, "it is not necessary
to know the actual contents?"

"If you had lost something and would not tell me whether it was a dog or
a diamond, would you expect me to find it?"

"But--" began Mr. Llewellyn John.

"I'm afraid we are wasting time, gentlemen," said Malcolm Sage, rising.
"I would suggest Scotland Yard. The official police must work under any
handicap imposed. I regret that I am unable to do so."

He walked across to the chair where lay his cap and coat.

"Now, Sage," said Mr. Llewellyn John tactfully, "you mustn't let us
down, you really mustn't." Then turning to Sir Lyster, he said, "I can
see his point. If he doesn't know the nature of the document, he cannot
form a theory as to who is likely to have taken it. Perhaps under the
circumstances, Grayne, we might take Sage into our confidence; at least
to such extent as he thinks necessary."

Sir Lyster made no response, whilst Lord Beamdale, whose economy in
words had earned for him the sobriquet of "Lord Dumbeam," sat with
impassive face.

"Perhaps I can help you," said Malcolm Sage, still standing by the chair
on which lay his cap and coat. "At the end of every great war the Plans
Departments of the Admiralty and the War Office are busy preparing for
the next war. I suggest that this document was the Admiralty draft of a
plan of operations to be put into force in the event of war occurring
between this country and an extremely friendly power. It was submitted
to the War Office for criticism and comment as far as land-operations
were concerned. Another Power, unfriendly to the friendly power, would
find in this document a very valuable red herring to draw across the
path of its own perplexities,"

Good heavens!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, starting upright in his chair.
"How on earth did you know?"

"It seems fairly obvious," said Malcolm Sage, as he returned to his
chair and resumed his stroking of the sphinx's back. "Who else knew of
the existence of the document?" he enquired.

"No one outside the Admiralty and the War--" Lyster stopped suddenly.
From the corridor, apparently just outside the library door came the
sound of a suppressed scream, followed by a bump against the woodwork.

Rising and moving swiftly across the room, Sir Lyster threw open the
door, revealing a gap of darkness into which a moment later slid two
figures, a pretty, fair-haired girl and a wizened little Japanese with
large round spectacles and an automatic smile.

"I'm so sorry. Sir Lyster," faltered the girl, as she stepped timidly
into the room, "but I was frightened. Someone had switched off the
lights and I ran into--" She turned to the Japanese, who stood
deprecating and nervous on the threshold. 

"I lose my passage," he said, baring his teeth still further; "I go to find cigarette-case of my
master. He leave it in beelyard-room. I go--"

With a motion of his hand Sir Lyster dismissed the man, who slipped away
as if relieved at getting off so lightly.

"You are up late, Miss Blair," he said coldly, turning to the girl.

"I'm so sorry," she said; "but Lady Grayne gave me some letters, and
there was so much copying for you that--" She paused, then added
nervously, "I didn't know it was so late."

"You had better go to bed, now," said Sir Lyster. With a charming smile
she passed out, Sir Lyster closing the door behind her. As he turned
into the room his eye caught sight of the chair in which Malcolm Sage
had been sitting.

"Where is Mr. Sage?" He looked from Mr. Llewellyn John to Lord Beamdale.

As he spoke Malcolm Sage appeared from the embrasure of the window
through which he had entered, and where he had taken cover as Sir Lyster
rose to open the door.

"You see. Sage is not supposed to be here," explained Mr. Llewellyn
John.

"Your secretary has an expensive taste in perfume," remarked Malcolm
Sage casually, as he resumed his seat. "It often characterises an
intensely emotional nature," he added musingly.

"Emotional nature!" repeated Sir Lyster. "As a matter of fact she is
extremely practical and self-possessed. You were saying--" he concluded
with the air of a man who misses a trifling subject in favour of one of
some importance.

"Diplomatists should be trained physiognomists," murmured Malcolm Sage.
"A man's mouth rarely lies, a woman's never."

Sir Lyster stared. "Now," continued Malcolm Sage, "I should like to know
who is staying here."

Sir Lyster proceeded to give some details of the guests and servants.
The domestic staff comprised twenty-one, and none had been in Sir
Lyster's employ for less than three years. They were all excellent
servants, of irreproachable character, who had come to him with good
references. Seventeen of the twenty-one lived in the house. There were
also four lady's-maids and five men-servants attached to the guests.
Among the men-servants was Sir Jeffrey Trawler's Japanese valet.

There was something in Sir Lyster's voice as he mentioned this fact that
caused Malcolm Sage to look up at him sharply.

"The man you have just seen," Sir Lyster explained. "He has been the
cause of some little difficulty in the servants' hall. They object to
sitting down to meals with a Chinaman, as they call him."

"He seems intelligent?" remarked Malcolm Sage casually.

"On the contrary, he is an extremely stupid creature," was the reply.
"He is continually losing himself. Only yesterday morning I myself found
him wandering about the corridor leading to my bedroom. Walters has also
mentioned the matter to me."

Sir Lyster then passed on to the guests. They comprised Mrs. Selton, an
aunt of Sir Lyster; Sir Jeffrey and Lady Trawlor, old friends of their
hostess; Lady Whyndale and her two daughters. There were also Mr. Gerald
Nash, M.P., and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Winnington, old friends of Sir
Lyster and Lady Grayne.

“Later I may require a list of the guests," said Malcolm Sage, when Sir
Lyster had completed his account. "You said, I think, that the key of
the safe was sometimes left in an accessible place?"

"Yes, in a drawer."

"So that anyone having access to the room could easily have taken a wax
impression."

Sir Lyster flushed slightly. "There is no one--" he began.

"There is always a potential someone," corrected Malcolm Sage, raising
his eyes suddenly and fixing them full upon Sir Lyster.

"The question is, Sage," broke in Mr. Llewellyn John tactfully, "what
are we to do?"

"I should first like to see the inside of the safe and the dummy
packet," said Malcolm Sage, rising. "No, I will open it myself if you
will give me the key," he added, as Sir Lyster rose and moved over to
the safe.

Taking the key, Malcolm Sage kneeled before the safe door and, by the
light of an electric torch, surveyed the whole of the surface with
keen-sighted eyes. Then placing the key in the lock he turned it, and
swung back the door, revealing a long official envelope as the sole
contents. This he examined carefully without touching it, his head
thrust inside the safe.

"Is this the same envelope as that in which the document was enclosed?"
he enquired, without looking round.

The three men had risen and were grouped behind Malcolm Sage, watching
him with keen interest.

"It's the same kind of envelope, but--" began Sir Lyster, when Lord
Beamdale interrupted.

"It's the envelope itself," he said. "I noticed that the right-hand top
corner was bent in rather a peculiar manner."

Malcolm Sage rose and, taking out the envelope, carefully examined the
damaged corner, which was bent and slightly torn.

"Yes, it's the same," cried Mr. Llewellyn John. "I remember tearing it
myself when putting in the document."

"How many leaves of paper were there?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"Eight, I think," replied Sir Lyster.

"Nine," corrected Lord Beamdale. "There was a leaf in front blank but
for the words, 'Plans Department.'"

"Have you another document from the same Department?" enquired Malcolm
Sage of Sir Lyster.

"Several."

"I should like to see one." Sir Lyster left the room, and Malcolm Sage
removed the contents of the envelope. Carefully counting nine leaves of
white foolscap, he bent down over the paper, with his face almost
touching it.

When Sir Lyster re-entered with another document in his hand Malcolm
Sage took it from him and proceeded to subject it to an equally close
scrutiny, holding up to the light each sheet in succession.

"I suppose, Sir Lyster, you don't by any chance use scent?" enquired
Malcolm Sage without looking up.

"Mr. Sage!" Sir Lyster was on his dignity.

"I see you don't," was Malcolm Sage's calm comment as he resumed his
examination of the dummy document. Replacing it in the envelope, he
returned it to the safe, closed the door, locked it, and put the key in
his pocket.

"Well! what do you make of it?" cried Mr. Llewellyn John eagerly.

"We shall have to take the Postmaster-General into our confidence."

"Woldington!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John in astonishment. "Why?"

Sir Lyster looked surprised, whilst Lord Beamdale appeared almost
interested.

"Because we shall probably require his help."

"How?" enquired Sir Lyster.

"Well, it's rather dangerous to tamper with His Majesty's mails without
the connivance of St. Martins-le-Grand," was the dry retort. 

"But--" began Mr. Llewellyn John, when suddenly he stopped short.

Malcolm Sage had walked over to where his overcoat lay, and was
deliberately getting into it.

"You're not going, Mr. Sage?" Sir Lyster's granite-like control seemed
momentarily to forsake him. "What do you advise us to do?"

"Get some sleep," was the quiet reply.

"But aren't you going to search for--?" He paused as Malcolm Sage turned
and looked full at him.

“A search would involve the very publicity you are anxious to avoid," was
the reply.

"But--" began Mr. Llewellyn John, when Malcolm Sage interrupted him.

"The only effective search would be to surround the house with police,
and allow each occupant to pass through the cordon after having been
stripped. The house would then have to be gone through; carpets and
boards pulled up; mattresses ripped open; chairs--"

"I agree with Mr. Sage," said Sir Lyster, looking across at the Prime
Minister coldly.

"Had I been a magazine detective I should have known exactly where to
find the missing document," said Malcolm Sage. "As I am not"--he turned
to Sir Lyster--"it will be necessary for you to leave a note for your
butler telling him that you have dropped somewhere about the house the
key of this safe, and instructing him to have a thorough search made for
it. You might casually mention the loss at breakfast, and refer to an
important document inside the safe which you must have on Monday
morning. Perhaps the Prime Minister will suggest telephoning to town for
a man to come down to force the safe should the key not be found."

Malcolm Sage paused. The others were gazing at him with keen interest.

"Leave the note unfolded in a conspicuous place where anyone can see
it," he continued.

"I'll put it on the hall table," said Sir Lyster.

Malcolm Sage nodded. "It is desirable that you should all appear to be
in the best of spirits." There was a fluttering at the corners of
Malcolm Sage's mouth, as he lifted his eyes for a second to the almost
lugubrious countenance of Lord Beamdale. "Under no circumstances refer
to the robbery, even amongst yourselves. Try to forget it."

"But how will that help?" enquired Mr. Llewellyn John, whose nature
rendered him singularly ill-adapted to a walking-on part.

"I will ask you, sir," said Malcolm Sage, turning to him, "to give me a
letter to Mr. Woldington, asking him to do as I request. I will give him
the details."

"But why is it necessary to tell him?" demanded Lyster.

"That I will explain to you to-morrow. That will need to be ready by
Monday," explained Malcolm Sage, "earlier if possible. A few lines will
do," he added, turning to Mr. Llewellyn John.

"I suppose we must," said the Prime Minister, looking from Sir Lyster to
Lord Beamdale.

"I hope to call before lunch," said Malcolm Sage, "but as Mr. Le Sage
from the Foreign Office. You will refuse to discuss official matters
until Monday. I shall probably ask you to introduce me to everyone you
can. It may happen that I shall disappear suddenly."

"But cannot you be a little less mysterious?" said Sir Lyster, with a
touch of asperity in his voice.

"There is nothing mysterious," replied Malcolm Sage. "It seems quite
obvious. Everything depends upon how clever the thief is." He looked up
suddenly, his gaze passing from one to another of the bewildered
Ministers.

"It's by no means obvious to me," cried Mr. Llewellyn John,
complainingly.

"By the way, Sir Lyster, how many cars have you in the garage?" enquired
Malcolm Sage. "In case we want them," he added.

"I have two, and there are"--he paused for a moment--"five others," he
added; "seven in all."

"Any carriages, or dog-carts?"

"No. We have no horses."

"Bicycles?"

"A few of the servants have them," replied Sir Lyster, a little
impatiently.

"The bicycles are also kept in the garage, I take it?"

"They are." This time there was no mistaking the note of irritation in
Sir Lyster's voice.

"There may be several messengers from Whitehall tomorrow," said Malcolm
Sage, after a pause. "Please keep them waiting until they show signs of
impatience. It is important. Whatever happens here, it would be better
not to acquaint the police--whatever happens," he added with emphasis.
"And now, sir"--he turned to Mr. Llewellyn John--"I should like that note
to the Postmaster-General."

Mr. Llewellyn John sat down reluctantly at a table and wrote a note.

“But suppose the thief hands the document to an accomplice?" said Sir
Lyster presently, with something like emotion in his voice.

“That's exactly what I am supposing," was Malcolm Sage's reply and,
taking the note that Mr. Llewellyn John held out to him, he placed it in
his breast pocket, buttoned up his overcoat, and walked across to the
window through which he had entered. With one hand upon the curtain he
turned.

"If I call, you may notice that I have acquired a slight foreign accent,"
he said, and with that he slipped behind the curtain. A moment later the
sound was heard of the window being quietly opened and then shut again.

"Well, I'm damned!" cried Lord Beamdale, and for the moment Mr.
Llewellyn John and Sir Lyster forgot their surprise at Malcolm Sage's
actions in their astonishment at their colleague's remark.

CHAPTER VII

THE OUTRAGE AT THE GARAGE

WHEN Mr. Walters descended the broad staircase of The Towers on the
Sunday morning he found two things to disturb him--Sir Lyster's note on
the hall table, and the Japanese valet "lost" in the conservatory.

He read the one with attention, and rebuked the other with acrimony.
Having failed to find the missing key himself, he proceeded to the
housekeeper's room, and poured into the large and receptive ear of Mrs.
Eames the story of his woes.

"And this a Sunday too," the housekeeper was just remarking, in a fat,
comfortable voice, when Richards, the chauffeur, burst unceremoniously
into the room.

"Someone's taken the pencils from all the magnetos," he shouted angrily,
his face moist with heat and lubricant.

"Is that your only excuse for bursting into a lady's room without
knocking?" enquired Mr. Walters, with an austere dignity he had copied
directly from Sir Lyster. "If you apply to me presently, I will lend you
a pencil. In the meantime--"

"But it's burglars. They've broken into the garage and taken the pencils
from every magneto, every blinkin' one," he added by way of emphasis.

At the mention of the word "burglars," Mr. Walters's professional
composure of feature momentarily forsook him; his jaw dropped.
Recovering himself instantly, however, he hastened out of the room,
closely followed by Richards, leaving Mrs. Eames speechless, the oval
cameo locket heaving up and down upon her indignant black-silk bosom. A man
had sworn in her presence and had departed unrebuked.

On reaching the garage Mr. Walters gazed vaguely about him He was
entirely unversed in mechanics, and Richards persisted in pouring forth
technicalities that bewildered him. The chauffeur also cursed loudly and
with inspiration, until reminded that it was Sunday, when he lowered his
voice, at the same time increasing the density of his language.

Mr. Walters was frankly disappointed. There was no outward sign of
burglars. At length he turned interrogatingly to Richards.

"Just a-goin' to tune 'em up I was," explained Richards for the
twentieth time, "when I found the bloomin' engines had gone whonky,
then--"

"Found the engines had gone what?" enquired Mr. Walters.

"Whonky, dud, na-poo," explained Richards illuminatingly, whilst Mr.
Walters gazed at him icily. "Then in comes Davies," he continued,
nodding in the direction of a little round-faced man, with "chauffeur"
written on every inch of him, "and 'e couldn't get 'is blinkin' 'arp to
'um neither. Then we starts a-lookin' round, when lo and be'old! what do
we find? Some streamin', saturated son of sin an' whiskers 'as pinched
the ruddy pencils out of the scarlet magnetos."

"The float's gone from my carburettor."

The voice came from a long, lean man who appeared suddenly out of the
shadows at the far-end of the garage.

Without a word Richards and Davies dashed each to a car. A minute later
two yells announced that the floats from their carburettors also had
disappeared.

Later Richards told how that morning he had found the door of the garage
unfastened, although he was certain that he had locked it the night
before.

This was sufficient for Mr. Walters. Fleeing from the bewildering flood
of technicalities and profanity of the three chauffeurs, he made his way
direct to Sir Lyster's room. Here he told his tale, and was instructed
instantly to telephone to the police.

At the telephone further trouble awaited him. He could get no reply from
the exchange. He tried the private wire to the Admiralty; but with no
better result.

He accordingly reported the matter to Sir Lyster, who was by then with
Lord Beamdale in the library. It was the Minister of War who reminded
his host of Malcolm Sage's strange request that whatever happened the
police were not to be communicated with.

"But Sage could not have anticipated this--this monstrous outrage,"
protested Sir Lyster, white with anger. He had already imperiously put
aside Lord Beamdale's suggestion that the whole affair might be a joke.

"Still, better do as he said," was the rejoinder and, as later Mr.
Llewellyn John concurred, Sir Lyster decided to await the arrival of
Malcolm Sage before taking further steps.

One by one the guests drifted down to breakfast, went out to the garage
to see for themselves, and then returned to discuss the affair over
coffee and kidneys, tea and toast.

It subsequently transpired that without exception the cars had been
entirely put out of commission. From each the pencil had been removed
from the magneto, and the float from the carburettor. From the bicycles
the pedals had been taken away, with the exception of those belonging to
Miss Blair and one of the housemaids, the only two ladies' machines in
the place.

"A veritable Claude Duval," someone remarked; but this brought little
consolation to the owners of the wrecked cars. It was a fine day, too,
which added to their sense of hardship.

As Sir Lyster left the breakfast-room he encountered Miss Blair crossing
the hall. She looked very fresh and pretty, with a demure, almost
child-like expression of feature. Her cheeks were flushed with health and
exercise.

"Would you like me to cycle over to Odford to the police?" she enquired.
"My machine is quite all right. I have just been for a spin."

"No-er-not at present, thank you. Miss Blair," said Sir Lyster, a little
embarrassed at having to refuse to do the obvious thing. He passed
across the hall into the library, and Miss Blair, having almost fallen
over the Japanese valet, "lost" in a corridor leading to the
billiard-room, went out to condole with Richards and tell him of a
strange epidemic of mishaps that seemed to have descended upon the
neighbourhood. She herself had passed a motor-cycle, two push-bicycles,
and a Ford car, all disabled by the roadside.

All that morning the Prime Minister, Sir Lyster, and Lord Beamdale
waited and wondered. Finding the strain of trying to look cheerful too
much for them, they shut themselves up in the library on the plea of
pressing official business; this, in spite of Sir Lyster's well-known
week-end rule.

Hour after hour passed; yet not only did Malcolm Sage fail to put in an
appearance, but nothing was heard or seen of the promised bogus official
messengers.

At luncheon more than one guest remarked upon the distrait and
absent-minded appearance of the three Ministers, and deduced from the
circumstance a grave political crisis.

The afternoon dragged its leaden course. Throughout the house there was
an atmosphere of unrest. Among themselves the guests complained because
no action had been taken to track down the despoiler of their cars.
Walters had rendered the lives of the domestic staff intolerable by
insisting upon search for the missing key being made in the most
unlikely and inaccessible places, although in his own mind he was
convinced that it had been stolen by the errant Japanese.

In the library sat the three Ministers, for the most part gazing either
at one another or at nothing in particular. They were waiting for
something to happen: none knew quite what.

Dinner passed, a dreary meal; the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room;
but still the heavy atmosphere of foreboding remained. It was nearly
half-past nine when Walters entered and murmured something in Sir
Lyster's ear.

An eager light sprang into Mr. Llewellyn John's eyes as the First Lord
rose, made his apologies, and left the room. It was only by the exercise
of great self-control that the Prime Minister refrained from jumping up
and bolting after him.

Two minutes later Walters again entered the dining-room, with a request
that Mr. Llewellyn John and Lord Beamdale would join Sir Lyster in the
library.

As Walters threw open the library door, they found Malcolm Sage seated
at the table, his fingers spread out before him, whilst Sir Lyster stood
by the fireplace.

"Ask Miss Blair if she will come here to take down an important letter,
Walters," said Sir Lyster.

"Well?" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, as soon as Walters had closed the door
behind him. "Have you got it?"

"The document is now in a strong-room at the General Post Office," said
Malcolm Sage without looking up. "I thought it would be safer there."

"Thank God!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, collapsing into a chair.

Malcolm Sage glanced across at him and half rose.

"I'm all right, Sage," said Mr. Llewellyn John; "but coming after this
awful day of anxiety, the news was almost too much for me."

"Who took it from the safe then?" enquired Sir Lyster. "I--" he stopped
short as the door opened, and Miss Blair entered, note-book in hand,
looking very dainty in a simple grey frock, relieved by a bunch of clove
carnations at the waist. Closing the door behind her, she hesitated for
a moment, a smile upon her moist, slightly-parted lips.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Miss Blair," began Sir Lyster, "but Mr.
Sage--" he paused.

"It was Miss Blair who removed the document from the safe," said Malcolm
Sage quietly, his eyes bent upon the finger-tips of his right hand.

"Miss Blair!" cried Sir Lyster, his hand dropping from the mantelpiece
to his side.

For the fraction of a second the girl stood just inside the door; then
as the significance of Malcolm Sage's words dawned upon her, the smile
froze upon her lips, the blood ebbed from her face, leaving it drawn and
grey, and the note-book dropped from her fingers. She staggered forward a
few steps, then, clutching wildly at the edge of the table, she swayed
from side to side. With an obvious effort she steadied herself, her gaze
fixed upon her accuser.

Slowly Malcolm Sage raised his eyes, cold, grey, inflexible, and fixed
them upon the terrified girl.

The three Ministers appeared not yet to have realised the true nature of
the drama being enacted before them.

"Miss Blair," said Malcolm Sage quietly, "what are your relations with
Paul Cressit?"

Twice she essayed to speak, but no sound came. "I-I-er-know him," she
faltered at length.

"I wondered," said Malcolm Sage slowly.

"What does this mean, Mr. Sage?" enquired Sir Lyster.

"I will tell you," said Malcolm Sage, whilst Lord Beamdale placed a
chair into which Miss Blair collapsed. "Last night whilst you were at
dinner, Miss Blair opened your safe with a duplicate key made from a wax
impression. She abstracted a valuable document, putting in its place
some sheets of blank paper." He paused.

"Go on," almost gasped Mr. Llewellyn John.

"She took the document to her room and hid it, a little uncertain as to
how she should get it to her accomplice. This morning she saw Sir
Lyster's note on the hall table, and emboldened by the thought that the
theft had not been discovered, she cycled out to Odford and posted the
document to Paul Cressit at his chambers in Jermyn Street." Again
Malcolm Sage paused and drew from his pocket a note.

"In the envelope was enclosed this note." He handed to Mr. Llewellyn
John a half sheet of paper on which was typed:

"Paul, dearest, I have done it. I will ring you up tomorrow. I shall ask
for Tuesday off. You will keep your promise, dear, and save me, won't
you? If you don't, I shall kill myself. G."

"Miss Blair," said Sir Lyster coldly, "what have you to say?"

"N-nothing," she faltered, striving to moisten her grey lips.

"If you will tell the truth," said Malcolm Sage, "you still have a
chance. If not--" he paused significantly. She gulped noisily, striving
to regain her power of speech.

"You-you promise?" She looked across at Mr. Llewellyn John.

"Whatever Mr. Sage says we endorse," he replied gravely.

"Both of us?" she repeated.

"Both," said Malcolm Sage.

"I-I love him," she moaned; then after a pause she added: "It was to
save the disgrace. He promised, he swore he would if I did it."

"Swore he would do what?" said Malcolm Sage.

"Marry me."

Malcolm Sage raised his eyes to Sir Lyster, who was standing implacable
and merciless.

The girl's head had fallen forward upon the table, and her shoulders
were heaving convulsively.

Rising, Malcolm Sage walked across and placed his hand upon her arm.

"It will be better for everybody if you will try and control yourself,"
he said gently, "and above all tell us the truth."

As if surprised at the gentleness of his tone, she slowly raised her
drawn face and looked at him in wonder.

"Now listen to me," continued Malcolm Sage, drawing up a chair and
seating himself beside her, "and tell me if I am wrong. Whilst you were
acting as Sir Lyster's secretary you met Paul Cressit at the Admiralty,
and you were attracted to him."

She nodded, with a quick indrawing of her breath.

"He made violent love to you and you succumbed. Later you took him into
your confidence in regard to a certain matter and he promised to marry
you. He put you off from time to time by various excuses. You were
almost distracted at the thought of the disgrace. He persuaded you to
take a wax impression of Sir Lyster's key, on the chance of it one day
being useful."

Again she nodded, whilst the three men listened as if hypnotised.

"Finally he swore that he would marry you if you would steal this
document, and he showed you a special licence. Am I right?"

She nodded again, and then buried her head in her arms.

"I suppose," said Malcolm Sage quietly, "he did not happen to mention
that he was already married?"

"Married!" She started up, her eyes blazing. "It isn't true, oh! it
isn't true," she cried.

"I'm afraid it is," said Malcolm Sage, with feeling in his voice.

With a moan of despair her head fell forward upon the table, and hard
dry sobs shook her frail body.

"Miss Blair," said Malcolm Sage presently, when she had somewhat
regained her self-control, "my advice to you is to write out a full
confession and bring it to me at my office to-morrow morning. It is your
only chance: and now you must go to your room." He rose, assisted her to
her feet, and led her to the door which he closed behind her. "That I
think concludes the enquiry," he said, as he walked over to the
fireplace and, leaning against the mantel-piece, he began to fill his
pipe. "Unless," he added, turning to Mr. Llewellyn John, "you would like
to see Cressit."

The Prime Minister looked across at Sir Lyster and then at Lord
Beamdale. Both shook their heads.

"What we should like, Sage," said Mr. Llewellyn John, "is a little
information as to what has been happening."

With great deliberation Malcolm Sage proceeded to light his pipe. When
it was drawing to his entire satisfaction, he turned to Mr. Llewellyn
John and, with the suspicion of a fluttering at the corners of his
mouth, remarked:

"I hope you have not been inconvenienced about the telephone."

"We could get no reply from the exchange," said Sir Lyster, "and the
wire to the Admiralty is out of order."

"I had to disconnect you after I left this morning," said Malcolm Sage
quietly. "My chauffeur swarmed up one of the standards. Incidentally he
wrecked an almost new pair of breeches."

"They'll have to go in the Naval Estimates," cried Mr. Llewellyn John,
who was feeling almost jovial now the tension of the past twenty-four
hours had been removed.

"From the first," proceeded Malcolm Sage, "it was obvious that this
theft was planned either at the Admiralty or at the War Office."

"That is absurd!" cried Sir Lyster with heat, whilst Lord Beamdale
leaned forward, his usually apathetic expression of indifference giving
place to one of keen interest.

"I accepted the assurance that only three people in this house knew of
the existence of the document," Malcolm Sage proceeded, as if there had
been no interruption. "There was no object in any of those three persons
stealing that to which they had ready access."

Lord Beamdale nodded his agreement with the reasoning.

"Therefore," continued Malcolm Sage, "the theft must have been planned
by someone who knew about the document before it came here, and
furthermore knew that it was to be here at a certain time. To confirm
this hypothesis we have the remarkable circumstances that the blank
paper substituted for the original document was, in quality and the
number of sheets, identical with that of the document itself."

"Good," ejaculated Lord Beamdale, himself a keen mathematician. Mr.
Llewellyn John and Sir Lyster exchanged glances.

"It was almost, but not quite, obvious that the exchange had been
effected by a woman."

"How obvious?" enquired Mr. Llewellyn John.

"'Few women pass unperfumed to the grave,'" quoted Malcolm Sage. "I
think it was Craddock who said that," he added, and Mr. Llewellyn John
made a mental note of the phrase.

"The handle of the safe door was corrugated, and the lacquer had worn
off, leaving it rough to the touch. When I kneeled down before the safe
it was not to examine the metal work, but to see if the thief had left a
scent."

"A scent?" repeated Sir Lyster.

"On the handle of the door there was a distinct trace of perfume, very
slight, but I have a keen sense of smell, although a great smoker. On
the document itself there was also evidence of a rather expensive
perfume, not unlike that used by Miss Blair. Furthermore, it was bent in
a rather peculiar manner, which might have resulted from its being
carried in the belt of a woman's frock. It might, of course, have been
mere chance," he added; "but the envelope did not show a corresponding
bend."

Again Lord Beamdale nodded appreciatively.

"Although several people have had an opportunity of taking a wax
impression of the key, the most likely were Miss Blair and Walters--that,
however, was a side issue."

"How?" enquired Sir Lyster.

"Because primarily we were concerned with making the criminal himself,
or herself, divulge the secret."

"That's why you would not allow the loss to be made known," broke in Mr.
Llewellyn John.

"The thief," continued Malcolm Sage, with a slight inclination of his
head, "would in all probability seize the first safe opportunity of
getting rid of the plunder."

"But did you not suspect the Japanese?" broke in Lord Beamdale.

"For the moment I ruled him out," said Malcolm Sage, "as I could not see
how it was possible for him to know about the existence of the document
in question, and furthermore, as he had been in the house less than two
days, there was no time for him to get a duplicate key."

"What did you do then?" queried Sir Lyster.

"I motored back to town, broke in upon the Postmaster-General's first
sleep, set on foot enquiries at the Admiralty and War Office, in the
meantime arranging for The Towers to be carefully watched." Malcolm Sage
paused for a moment; then as none of his hearers spoke he continued:

"I had a number of people in the neighbourhood--motorists, cyclists, and
pedestrians. No one could have left the house and grounds without being
seen.

"Miss Blair found the morning irresistible, and took an early spin on
her bicycle to Odford, where she posted a packet in a pillar-box
situated in a street that was apparently quite empty."

"And you secured it?" enquired Mr. Llewellyn John, leaning forward
eagerly.

"I'm afraid I quite spoilt the local postmaster's Sunday by requesting
that a pillar-box should be specially cleared, and producing an
authority from the Postmaster-General. After he had telegraphed to
headquarters and received a reply confirming the letter, he reluctantly
acquiesced."

"And it was addressed to this man Cressit?" enquired Sir Lyster.

"Yes. He is a temporary staff-clerk in the Plans Department.
Incidentally he is something of a Don Juan, and the cost of living has
increased considerably, as you know, sir," he added, turning to the
Prime Minister.

Mr. Llewellyn John smiled wanly. It was his political "cross," this
cost-of-living problem.

"And what shall we do with him?" enquired Sir Lyster. "The scoundrel,"
he added.

"I have almost done with him as a matter of fact," said Malcolm Sage.

"Done with him?" exclaimed Lord Beamdale.

"I sent him a telegram in Miss Blair's name to be at Odford Station
to-night at seven: then I kidnapped him."

"Good heavens, Sage! What do you mean?" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, with
visions of the Habeas Corpus Act and possible questions in the House,
which he hated.

"We managed to get him to enter my car, and then we went through
him--that is a phrase from the crook-world. We found upon him the
marriage certificate, and later I induced him to confess. I am now going
to take him back to my office, secure his finger-prints and physical
measurements, which will be of interest at Scotland Yard."

"But we are not going to prosecute," said Mr. Llewellyn John anxiously.

"Mr. Paul Cressit will have forty-eight hours in which to leave the
country," said Malcolm Sage evenly. "He will not return, because
Scotland Yard will see that he does not do so. There will probably be an
application to you, sir," Malcolm Sage continued, turning to Mr.
Llewellyn John, "to confirm what I tell them."

"Excellent!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John. "I congratulate you, Sage. You
have done wonders."

"But I fail to understand your saying that you would be here this
morning," said Sir Lyster, "and under an assumed name with--"

"A foreign accent," suggested Malcolm Sage. "The thief might have been
an old hand at the game, and too clever to fall into a rather obvious
trap. In that case I might have been forced, as a foreigner, to salute
the hands of all the ladies in the house. I learnt to click my heels
years ago in Germany." Again there was a suspicious movement at the
corners of Malcolm Sage's mouth.

"But--" began Sir Lyster.

"To identify the scent?" broke in Mr. Llewellyn John. Malcolm Sage
inclined his head slightly.

"The Foreign Office messengers?" queried Lord Beamdale.

"I decided that pedestrians and cyclists would do as well. I merely
wanted the house watched. There were quite a number of casualties to
cars and bicycles in the neighbourhood," he added dryly.

"But why did you cut us off from the telephone?" enquired Mr. Llewellyn
John.

"The accomplice might have got through, and I could afford to take no
risks."

"Well, you have done splendidly, Sage," said Mr. Llewellyn John
heartily, "and we are all greatly obliged. By the way, there's another
little problem awaiting you. Someone broke into the garage last night
and wrecked all the cars and bicycles--"

"Except two," said Malcolm Sage.

"Then you've heard." Mr. Llewellyn John looked at him in surprise.

"The man who did it is in my car outside with Cressit."

"You've got him as well?" cried Mr. Llewellyn John excitedly. "Sage,
you're a miracle of sagacity," he added, again mentally noting the
phrase.

"The missing pencils, floats, and pedals you will find on the left-hand
side of the drive about half-way down, under a laurel bush," said
Malcolm Sage quietly.

"And who is this fellow who did this scandalous thing?" demanded Sir
Lyster.

"My chauffeur."

"Your chauffeur!"

"I could not risk the thief having access to a fast car."

"But what if this fellow Cressit refuses to go?" enquired Lord Beamdale.

"He won't," said Malcolm Sage grimly. "D.O.R.A. is still in operation. I
had to remind him of the fact."

Malcolm Sage picked up his hat and coat and walked towards the door. "I
must be going," he said. "I have still several things to attend to. You
won't forget about the plunder from the garage?" he added.

"But what am I to do about Miss Blair?" asked Sir Lyster.

"That's a question I think you will find answered in the Gospel of St.
Luke--the seventh chapter and I think the forty-seventh verse"; and with
that he was gone, leaving three Ministers gazing at one another in dumb
astonishment.

Had a cynic been peeping into the library of The Towers a few minutes
later, he would have discovered three Cabinet Ministers bending over a
New Testament, which Sir Lyster had fetched from his wife's boudoir, and
the words they read were: "Wherefore I say unto thee. Her sins, which
are many, are forgiven; for she loved much."

"Strange," murmured Lord Beamdale, "very strange," and the others knew
that he was referring, not to the text, or to the unhappy girl--but to
Malcolm Sage.

"We are always surprised when we find Saul among the prophets," remarked
Mr. Llewellyn John, and he made a mental note of the phrase. It might do
for the "Wee Frees."

CHAPTER VIII

GLADYS NORMAN DINES WITH THOMPSON

"TOMMY," remarked Miss Gladys Norman one day as Thompson entered her
room through the glass-panelled door, "have you ever thought what I
shall do fifty years hence?"

"Darn my socks," replied the practical Thompson.

"I mean," she proceeded with withering deliberation, "what will happen
when I can't do the hundred in ten seconds?"

Thompson looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"My cousin Will says that if you can't do the hundred yards in ten
seconds you haven't an earthly," she explained. "It's been worrying me.
What am I to do when I'm old and rheumaticky and the Chief does three on
the buzzer? He's bound to notice it and he'll look."

Malcolm Sage's "look" was a slight widening of the eyes as he gazed at a
delinquent. It was his method of conveying rebuke. That "look" would
cause Thompson to swear earnestly under his breath for the rest of the
day, whilst on Gladys Norman it had several distinct effects, the biting
of her lower lip, the snubbing of Thompson, the merciless banging of her
typewriter, and a self-administered rebuke of "Gladys Norman, you're a
silly little ass," being the most noticeable.

For a moment Thompson thought deeply, then with sudden inspiration he
said, "Why not move your table nearer his door?"

"What a brain!" she cried, regarding him with mock admiration. "You must
have been waving it with Hindes' curlers. Yes," she added, "you may take
me out to dinner to-night, Tommy."

Thompson was in the act of waving his hat wildly over his head when
Malcolm Sage came out of his room. For the fraction of a second he
paused and regarded his subordinates. "It's not another war, I hope," he
remarked, and, without waiting for a reply, he turned, re-entered his
room and closed the door. Gladys Norman collapsed over her typewriter,
where with heaving shoulders she strove to mute her mirth with a
ridiculous dab of pink cambric.

Thompson looked crestfallen. He had turned just in time to see Malcolm
Sage re-enter his room.

Three sharp bursts on the buzzer brought Gladys Norman to her feet.
There was a flurry of skirt, the flash of a pair of shapely ankles, and
she disappeared into Malcolm Sage's room.

"It's a funny old world," remarked Gladys Norman that evening, as she
and Thompson sat at a sheltered table in a little Soho restaurant.

"It's a jolly nice old world," remarked Thompson, looking up from his
plate, "and this chicken is It."

"Chicken first; Gladys Norman also ran," she remarked scathingly.

Thompson grinned and returned to his plate.

"Why do you like the Chief, Tommy?" she demanded.

Thompson paused in his eating, resting his hands, still holding knife
and fork, upon the edge of the table. The suddenness of the question had
startled him.

"If you must sit like that, at least close your mouth," she said
severely.

Thompson replaced his knife and fork upon the plate.

"Well, why do you?" she queried.

"Why do I what?" he asked.

She made a movement of impatience. "Like the Chief, of course." Then as
he did not reply she continued: "Why does Tims like him, and the
Innocent, and Sir James, and Sir John Dene, and the whole blessed lot of
us. Why is it, Tommy, why?"

Thompson merely gaped, as if she had propounded some unanswerable
riddle.

"Why is it?" she repeated. Then as he still remained silent she added,
"There's no hurry, Tommy dear; just go on listening with your mouth. I
quite realise the compliment."

"I'm blessed if I know," he burst out at last. "I suppose it's because
he's 'M.S.'" and he returned to his plate.

"Yes, but why is it?" she persisted, as she continued mechanically to
crumble her bread. "That's what I want to know; why is it?"

Thompson looked at her a little anxiously. By nature he was inclined to
take things for granted, things outside his profession that is.

"It's a funny old world, Tommikins," she repeated at length, picking up
her knife and fork, "funnier for some than for others."

Thompson looked up with a puzzled expression on his face. There were
times when he found Gladys Norman difficult to understand.

"For a girl, I mean," she added, as if that explained it. Thompson still
stared. The remark did not strike him as illuminating.

"It may be," she continued meditatively, "that I like doing things for
the Chief because he was my haven of refuge from a wicked world; but
that doesn't explain why you and Tims---"

"Your haven of refuge!" repeated Thompson, making a gulp of a mouthful,
and once more laying down his knife and fork, as he looked across at her
curiously.

"Before I went to the Ministry I had one or two rather beastly
experiences." She paused as if mentally reviewing some unpleasant
incident.

"Tell me, Gladys." Thompson was now all attention.

"Well, I once went to see a man in Shaftesbury Avenue who had advertised
for a secretary. He was a funny old bean," she added reminiscently, "all
eyes and no waist, and more curious as to whether I lived alone, or with
my people, than about my speeds. So I told him my brother was a
prizefighter, and--"

"But you haven't got a brother," broke in Thompson.

"I told him that for the good of his soul, Tommy, and of the girls who
came after me," she added a little grimly.

"It was funny," she continued after a pause. "He didn't seem a bit eager
to engage me after that. Said my speeds (which I hadn't told him) were
not good enough; but to show there was no ill-feeling he tried to kiss
me at parting. So I boxed his ears, slung his own inkpot at him and came
away. Oh! it's a great game, Tommy, played slow," she added as an
after-thought, and she hummed a snatch of a popular fox-trot.

"The swine!"

Thompson had just realised the significance of what he had heard. There
was an ugly look in his eyes.

"I then got a job at the Ministry of Economy and later at the Ministry
of Supply, and the Chief lifted me out by my bobbed hair and put me into
Department Z. That's why I call him my haven of refuge. See, dearest?"

"What's the name of the fellow in Shaftesbury Avenue?" demanded
Thompson, his thoughts centring round the incident she had just
narrated.

"Naughty Tommy," she cried, making a face at him. "Mustn't get angry and
vicious. Besides," she added, "the Chief did for him."

"You told him?" cried Thompson incredulously, his interest still keener
than his appetite.

"I did," she replied airily, "and he dropped a hint at Scotland Yard. I
believe the gallant gentleman in Shaftesbury Avenue has something more
than a smack and an inky face to remember little Gladys by. He doesn't
advertise for secretaries now."

Thompson gazed at her, admiration in his eyes.

"But that doesn't explain why I always want to please the Chief, does
it?" she demanded. "In romance, the knight kills the villain for making
love to the heroine, and then gets down to the same dirty work himself.
Now the Chief ought to have been bursting with volcanic fires of passion
for me. He should have crushed me to his breast with merciless force, I
beating against his chest-protector with my clenched fists. Finally I
should have lain passive and unresisting in his arms, whilst he covered
my eyes, ears, nose and 'transformation' with fevered, passionate
kisses; not pecks like yours, Tommy; but the real thing with a punch in
them."

"What on earth--" began Thompson, when she continued.

"There should have been a fearful tempest on the other side of his ribs.
I should--"

"Don't talk rot, Gladys," broke in Thompson.

"I'm not talking rot," she protested. "I read it all in a novel that
sells by the million." Then after a moment's pause she continued: "He
saved me from the dragon; yet he doesn't even give me a box of
chocolates, and everybody in Whitehall knows that chocolates and kisses
won the war. When I fainted for him and he carried me into his room, he
didn't kiss me even then."

"You wouldn't have known it if he had," was Thompson's comment.

"Oh! wouldn't I?" she retorted. "That's all you know about girls, Mr.
Funny Thompson."

He stared across at her, blinking his eyes in bewilderment.

"He doesn't take me out to dinner as other chiefs do," she continued;
"yet I hop about like a linnet when he buzzes for me. Why is it?"

She gazed across at Thompson challengingly.

A look of anxiety began to manifest itself upon his good-natured
features. Psycho-analysis was not his strong point. In a vague way he
began to suspect that Gladys Norman's devotion to Malcolm Sage was not
strictly in accordance with Trade Union principles.

"There, get on with your chicken, you poor dear," she laughed, and
Thompson, picking up his knife and fork, proceeded to eat mechanically.
From time to time he glanced covertly across at Gladys.

"As to the Chief's looks," she continued, "his face is keen and taut,
and he's a strong, silent man; yet can you see his eyes hungry and
tempestuous, Tommy? I can't. Why is it," she demanded, "that when a
woman writes a novel she always stunts the strong, silent man?"

Thompson shook his head, with the air of a man who has given up
guessing.

"Imagine getting married to a strong, silent man," she continued, "with
only his strength and his silence, and perhaps a cheap gramophone, to
keep you amused in the evenings." She shuddered. "No," she said with
decision, "give me a regular old rattle-box without a chin, like you,
Tommy."

Mechanically Thompson's hand sought his chin, and Gladys laughed.

"Anyway, I'm not going to marry, in spite of the tube furniture posters.
Uncle Jake says it's all nonsense to talk about marriages being made in
heaven; they're made in the Tottenham Court Road."

Thompson had, however, returned to his plate. In her present mood,
Gladys Norman was beyond him. Realising the state of his mind, she
continued: "He's got a head like a pierrot's cap and it's as bald as a
fivepenny egg, when it ought to be beautifully rounded and covered with
crisp curly hair. He wears glasses in front of eyes like bits of slate,
when they ought to be full of slumbrous passion. His jaw is all right,
only he doesn't use it enough, in books the strong, silent man is a
regular old chin-wag, and yet I fall over myself to answer his buzzer.
Why is it, I repeat?" She looked across at him mischievously, enjoying
the state of depression to which she had reduced him.

Thompson merely shook his head.

"For all that," she continued, picking up her own knife and fork, which
in the excitement of describing Malcolm Sage she had laid down, "for all
that he would make a wonderful lover--once you could get him started,"
and she laughed gleefully as if at some hidden joke.

Thompson gazed at her over a fork piled with food, which her remark had
arrested half-way to his mouth.

"He's chivalrous," she continued. "Look at the way he always tries to
help up the very people he has downed. It's just a game with him--"

"No, it's not," burst out Thompson, through a mouthful of chicken and
sauté potato.

She gave him a look of disapproval that caused him to swallow rapidly.

"The Chief doesn't look on it as a game," he persisted. "He's out to
stop crime and--"

"But that's not the point," she interrupted. "What I want to know is why
do I bounce off my chair like an india-rubber ball when he buzzes?" she
demanded relentlessly. "Why do I want to please him? Why do I want to
kick myself when I make mistakes? Why--Oh! Tommy," she broke off, "if
only you had a brain as well as a stomach," and she looked across at him
reproachfully.

"Perhaps it's because he never complains," suggested Thompson, as he
placed his knife and fork at the "all clear" angle, and leaned back in
his chair with a sigh of contentment.

"You don't complain. Tommy," she retorted; "but you could buzz yourself
to blazes without getting me even to look up."

For fully a minute there was silence; Gladys Norman continued to gaze
down at the debris to which she had reduced her roll.

"No," she continued presently, "there is something else. I've noticed
the others; they're just the same." She paused, then suddenly looking
across at him she enquired, "What is loyalty, Tommy?"

"Standing up and taking off your hat when they play 'God Save the King,'
" he replied glibly.

She laughed, and deftly nicked a bread pill she had just manufactured,
catching Thompson beneath the left eye and causing him to blink
violently.

"You're a funny old thing," she laughed. "You know quite well what I
mean, only you're too stupid to realise it Look at the Innocent--for him
the Chief is the only man in all the world. Then there's Tims. He'd get
up in the middle of the night and drive the Chief to blazes, and hang
the petrol. Then there's you and me."

Thompson drew a cigarette case from his pocket.

"I think I know why it is," she said, nodding her pretty head wisely.
She paused, and as Thompson made no comment she continued: "It's because
he's human, warm flesh and blood."

"But when I'm warm flesh and blood," objected Thompson, with corrugated
brow, "you tell me not to be silly."

"Your idea of warmth, my dear man, was learnt on the upper reaches of
the Thames after dark," was the scathing retort.

"Yes, but--" he began, when she interrupted him.

"Look what he did for Miss Blair. Had her at the office and
then-then-looked after her."

"And afterwards got her a job," remarked Thompson. "But that's just like
the Chief," he added.

"Where did you meet him first, Tommy?" she enquired, as she leaned
forward slightly to light her cigarette at the match he held out to her.

"In a bath," was the reply, as Thompson proceeded to light his own
cigarette.

"You're not a bit funny," she retorted.

"But it was," he persisted.

"Was what?"

"In a bath. He hadn't had one before and--"

"Not had a bath!" she cried. "If you try to pull my leg like that,
Tommy, you'll ladder my stockings."

"But I'm not," protested Thompson. "I met the Chief in a Turkish bath,
and he went into the hottest room and crumpled, so I looked after him,
and that's how I got to know him."

"Of course, you couldn't have happened to mention that it was a Turkish
bath Tommy, could you?" she said. "That wouldn't be you at all. But
what makes him do things like he did for Miss Blair?"

"I suppose because he's the Chief," was Thompson's reply.

Gladys Norman sighed elaborately. "There are moments, James Thompson,"
she said, "when your conversation is almost inspiring," and she relapsed
into silence.

For the last half-hour Thompson had been conscious of a feeling of
uneasiness. It had first manifested itself when he was engaged upon a
lightly grilled cutlet; had developed as he tackled the lower joint of a
leg of chicken; and become an alarming certainty when he was half-way
through a plate of apple tart and custard. Gladys Norman's interest in
Malcolm Sage had become more than a secretarial one.

Mentally he debated the appalling prospect. By the time coffee was
finished he had reached an acute stage of mental misery. Suddenly life
had become, not only tinged, but absolutely impregnated with
wretchedness.

It was not until they had left the restaurant and were walking along
Shaftesbury Avenue that he summoned up courage to speak.

"Gladys," he said miserably, "you're not--" then he paused, not daring
to put into words his thought.

"He's so magnetic, so compelling," she murmured dreamily. "He knows so
much. Any girl might--"

She did not finish the sentence; but stole a glance at Thompson's tragic
face.

They walked in silence as far as Piccadilly Circus, then in the glare of
the light she saw the misery of his expression.

"You silly old thing," she laughed, as she slipped her arm through his.
"You funny old thing," and she laughed again.

That laugh was a Boddy lifebelt to the sinking heart of Thompson.

CHAPTER IX

THE HOLDING UP OF LADY GLANEDALE

MORE trouble. Tommy," remarked Gladys Norman one morning as James
Thompson entered her room. He looked across at her quickly, a keen flash
of interest in his somnolent brown eyes.

"Somebody's pinched Lady Glanedale's jewels. Just had a telephone
message. What a happy place the world would be without drink and
crime---"

"And women," added Thompson, alert of eye, and prepared to dodge
anything that was coming.

"Tommy, you're a beast. Get thee hence!" and bending over her
typewriter, she became absorbed in rattling words on to paper.

Thompson had just reached the third line of "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry,"
when his quick eye detected Malcolm Sage as he entered the outer office.

With a brief "Good morning," Malcolm Sage passed into his room, and a
minute later Gladys Norman was reading from her note-book the message
that had come over the telephone to the effect that early that morning a
burglar had entered Lady Glanedale's bedroom at the Home Park, Hyston,
the country house of Sir Roger Glanedale, and, under threat from a
pistol, had demanded her jewel-case, which she had accordingly handed to
him.

As the jewels were insured with the Twentieth Century Insurance
Corporation, Ltd., Malcolm Sage had been immediately communicated with,
that he might take up the enquiry with a view to tracing the missing
property.

One of Malcolm Sage's first cases had been undertaken for this company
in connection with a burglary. He had been successful in restoring the
whole of the missing property. In consequence he had been personally
thanked by the Chairman at a fully attended Board Meeting, and at the
same time presented with a gold-mounted walking-stick, which, as he
remarked to Sir John Dene, no one but a drum-major in full dress would
dare to carry.

Having listened carefully as she read her notes, Malcolm Sage dismissed
Gladys Norman with a nod, and for some minutes sat at his table drawing
the inevitable diagrams upon his blotting pad. Presently he rose, and
walked over to a row of shelves filled with red-backed volumes, lettered
on the back "Records," with a number and a date.

Every crime or curious occurrence that came under Malcolm Sage's notice
was duly chronicled in the pages of these volumes, which contained miles
of press cuttings. They were rendered additionally valuable by an
elaborate system of cross-reference indexing.

After referring to an index volume, Malcolm Sage selected one of the
folios, and returned with it to his table. Rapidly turning over the
pages he came to a newspaper cutting, which was dated some five weeks
previously. This he read and pondered over for some time. It ran:

'DARING BURGLARY. COUNTRY MANSION ENTERED

'BURGLAR'S SANG-FROID

'In the early hours of yesterday morning a daring burglary was committed
at the Dower House, near Hyston, the residence of Mr. Gerald Comminge,
who was away from home at the time, by which the burglar was able to
make a rich haul of jewels.

'In the early hours of the morning, Mrs. Comminge was awakened by the
presence of a man in her room. As she sat up in bed, the man turned an
electric torch upon her and, pointing a revolver in her direction,
warned her that if she cried out he would shoot. He then demanded to
know where she kept her jewels, and Mrs. Comminge, too terrified to do
anything else, indicated a drawer in which lay her jewel-case.

'Taking the jewel-case and putting it under his arm, the man threatened
that if she moved or called out within a quarter of an hour he would
return and shoot her. He then got out of the window on to a small
balcony and disappeared.

'It seems that he gained admittance by clambering up some ivy and thus
on to the narrow balcony that runs the length of one side of the house.
Immediately on the man's disappearance, Mrs. Comminge fainted. On coming
to she gave the alarm, and the police were immediately telephoned for.
Although the man's footprints are easily discernible upon the mould and
the soft turf, the culprit seems to have left no other clue.

'The description that Mrs. Comminge is able to give of her assailant is
rather lacking in detail, owing to the shock she experienced at his
sudden appearance. It would appear that the man is of medium height and
slight of build. He wore a cap and a black handkerchief tied across his
face just beneath his eyes, which entirely masked his features. With
this very inadequate description of the ruffian the police have perforce
to set to work on the very difficult task of tracing him.'

For some time Malcolm Sage pondered over the cutting, then rising he
replaced the volume and rang for Thompson.

An hour later Tims was carrying him along in the direction of Sir Roger
Glanedale's house at a good thirty-five miles an hour.

The Home Park was an Elizabethan mansion that had been acquired by Sir
Roger Glanedale out of enormous profits made upon the sale of margarine.
As Tims brought the car up before the front entrance with an impressive
sweep, the hall door was thrown open by the butler, who habitually
strove by an excessive dignity of demeanour to remove from his mental
palate the humiliating flavour of margarine.

Malcolm Sage's card considerably mitigated the impression made upon Mr.
Hibb's mind by the swing with which Tims had brought the car up to the
door.

Malcolm Sage was shown into the morning-room and told that her ladyship
would see him in a few minutes. He was busy in the contemplation of the
garden when the door opened and Lady Glanedale entered.

He bowed and then, as Lady Glanedale seated herself at a small table, he
took the nearest chair.

She was a little woman, some eight inches too short for the air she
assumed, fair, good-looking; but with a hard, set mouth. No one had ever
permitted her to forget that she had married margarine.

"You have called about the burglary?" she enquired, in a tone she might
have adopted to a plumber who had come to see to a leak in the bath.

Malcolm Sage bowed. "Perhaps you will give me the details," he said.
"Kindly be as brief as possible," his "incipient Bolshevism" manifesting
itself in his manner.

Lady Glanedale elevated her eyebrows; but, as Malcolm Sage's eyes were
not upon her, she proceeded to tell her story.

"About one o'clock this morning I was awakened to find a man in my
bedroom," she began. "He was standing between the bedstead and the
farther window, his face masked. He had a pistol in one hand, which he
pointed towards me, and an electric torch in the other. I sat up in bed
and stared at him. 'If you call out I shall kill you,' he said. I asked
him what he wanted. He replied that if I gave him my jewel-case and did
not call for help, he would not do me any harm.

"Realising that I was helpless, I got out of bed, put on a wrapper,
opened a small safe I have set in the wall, and handed him one of the
two jewel-cases I possess.

"He then made me promise that I would not ring or call out for a quarter
of an hour, and he disappeared out of the window.-

"At the end of a quarter of an hour I summoned help, and my stepson, the
butler, and several other servants came to my room. We telephoned for
the police, and after breakfast we telephoned to the insurance company."

For fully a minute there was silence. Malcolm Sage decided that Lady
Glanedale certainly possessed the faculty of telling a story with all
the events in their proper sequence. He found himself with very few
questions to put to her.

"Can you describe the man?" he asked as he mechanically turned over the
leaves of a book on a table beside him.

"Not very well," she replied. "I saw little more than a silhouette
against the window. He was of medium height, slight of build and I
should say young."

"That seems to agree with the description of the man who robbed Mrs.
Comminge," he said as if to himself.

"That is what the inspector said," remarked Lady Glanedale.

"His voice?"

'Was rather husky, as if he were trying to disguise it."

"Was it the voice of a man of refinement or otherwise?"

"I should describe it as middle-class," was the snobbish response.

"The mask?"

"It looked like a silk handkerchief tied across his nose. It was dark in
tone; but I could get only a dim impression."

Malcolm Sage inclined his head comprehendingly. "You know Mrs.
Comminge?"

"Intimately."

"You mentioned two jewel-cases," he said.

"The one stolen contained those I mostly wear," replied Lady Glanedale,
"in the other I keep some very valuable family jewels."

"What was the value of those stolen?"

"About 8,000 pounds," she replied, "possibly more. I should explain,
perhaps, that Sir Roger was staying in town last night, and so far I
have not been able to get him on the telephone. He was to have stayed at
the Ritzton; but apparently he found them full and went elsewhere."

"You have no suspicion as to who it was that entered your room?"

"None whatever," said Lady Glanedale.

"The police have already been?" he enquired, as he examined with great
intentness a rose he had taken from a bowl beside him.

"Yes, they came shortly after we telephoned. They gave instructions that
nothing was to be touched in the room, and no one was to go near the
ground beneath the windows."

Malcolm Sage nodded approvingly, and returned the rose to the bowl.

"And now," he said, "I think I should like to see the room. By the way,
I take it that you keep your safe locked?"

"Always," said Lady Glanedale.

"Where do you keep the key?"

"In the bottom right-hand drawer of my dressing-table, under a pile of
handkerchiefs."

"As soon as you can I should like to see a list of the jewels," said
Malcolm Sage, as he followed Lady Glanedale towards the door.

"My maid is copying it out now," she replied, and led the way up the
staircase, along a heavily-carpeted corridor, at the end of which she
threw open a door giving access to a bedroom.

Malcolm Sage entered and gave a swift look about him, seeming to note
and catalogue every detail. It was a large room, with two windows
looking out on to a lawn. On the right was a door, which. Lady Glanedale
explained, led to Sir Roger's dressing-room.

He walked over to the window near the dressing-room and looked out.

"That is the window he must have entered by; he went out that way,"
explained Lady Glanedale.

"You spoke of a stepson," said Malcolm Sage. "He is a man, I presume?"

"He is twenty-three." Lady Glanedale elevated her eyebrows as if
surprised at the question.

"Can you send for him?"

"Certainly, if you wish it." She rang the bell, and a moment later
requested the maid who answered it to ask Mr. Robert to come
immediately.

"Do you sleep with lowered blinds?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"The one nearest my bed I always keep down; the other I pull up after
putting out my light."

"Did you awaken suddenly, or gradually--as if it were your usual time to
awaken?"

"It was gradual," said Lady Glanedale, after a pause for thought. "I
remember having the feeling that someone was looking at me." 

"Was the light from the torch shining on your face?"

"No, it was turned to the opposite side of the room, on my right as I
lay in bed."

At that moment a young man in tweeds entered. "You want me, Mater?" he
enquired; then, looking across at Malcolm Sage with a slightly troubled
shadow in his eyes, he bowed.

"This is Mr. Sage from the insurance company," said Lady Glanedale
coldly. "He wishes to see you."

Again there was the slightly troubled look in young Glanedale's eyes.

"Perhaps you will place Mr. Glanedale in the exact position in which the
man was standing when you first saw him," said Malcolm Sage.

Without a word Lady Glanedale walked over to the spot she had indicated,
young Glanedale following. When she had got him into the desired
position she turned interrogatingly to Malcolm Sage.

"Now," he said, "will you be so kind as to lie on your bed in the same
position in which you were when you awakened."

For a moment Lady Glanedale's eyebrows indicated surprise. She used her
eyebrows more than any other feature for the purpose of expressing
emotion. Without comment, however, she lay down upon the bed on her
right side, closed her eyes, then a moment later sat up and gazed in the
direction where Glanedale stood looking awkward and self-conscious.

"Perhaps you will repeat every movement you made," said Malcolm Sage.
"Try to open the safe door exactly as you did then, and leave it at the
same angle. Every detail is important."

Lady Glanedale rose, picked up a wrapper that was lying over a
chair-back, put it on and, walking over to the safe, turned the key that
was in the lock, and opened it. Then, standing between the safe and
Glanedale, she took out a jewel-case and closed the door. Finally she
walked over to where her stepson stood, and handed him the jewel-case.

"Thank you," said Malcolm Sage. "I wanted to see whether or not the man
had the opportunity of seeing into the safe."

"I took care to stand in front of it," she said.

"So I observed. You allowed the quarter of an hour to elapse before you
raised the alarm?"

"Certainly, I had promised," was the response.

"But a promise extorted by threats of violence is not binding," he
suggested as he pulled meditatively at his right ear.

"It is with me," was the cold retort.

He inclined his head slightly.

"I notice that the ground beneath the windows has been roped off."

"The inspector thought it had better be done, as there were footprints."

"I will not trouble you further for the present, Lady Glanedale," said
Malcolm Sage, moving towards the door. "I should like to spend a little
time in the grounds. Later I may require to interrogate the servants."

Young Glanedale opened the door and his step-mother, followed by Malcolm
Sage, passed out. They descended the stairs together.

"Please don't trouble to come out," said Malcolm Sage. "I shall probably
be some little time," this as Lady Glanedale moved towards the
hall door. "By the way," he said, as she turned towards the morning-room
where she had received him, "did you happen to notice if the man was
wearing boots, or was he in stockinged feet?"

"I think he wore boots," she said, after a momentary pause.

"Thank you," and Malcolm Sage turned towards the door, which was held
open by the butler.

Passing down the steps and to the left, he walked round to the side of
the house, where the space immediately beneath Lady Glanedale's windows
had been roped off.

Stepping over the protecting rope, he examined the ground beneath the
window through which the burglar had entered.

Running along the side of the house was a flower-bed some two feet six
inches wide, and on its surface was clearly indicated a series of
footprints. On the side of the painted water-pipe were scratches such as
might have been made by someone climbing up to the window above.

Drawing a spring metal-rule from his pocket, he proceeded to take a
series of measurements, which he jotted down in a note-book.

He next examined the water-pipe up which the man presumably had climbed,
and presently passed on to a similar pipe farther to the left. Every
inch of ground he subjected to a careful and elaborate examination,
lifting the lower branches of some evergreens and gazing beneath them.

Finally, closing his note-book with a snap, Malcolm Sage seated himself
upon a garden seat and, carefully filling and lighting his pipe, he
became absorbed in the polished pinkness of the third finger-nail of his
left hand.

A quarter of an hour later he was joined by young Glanedale.

"Found anything?" he enquired.

"There are some footprints," said Malcolm Sage looking at him keenly.
"By the way, what did you do when you heard of the robbery?"

"I went to the Mater's room."

"And after that?"

"I rushed downstairs and started looking about."

“You didn't happen to come anywhere near this spot, or walk upon the
mould there?" He nodded at the place he had just been examining.

"No; as a matter of fact, I avoided it. The Mater warned me to be
careful."

Malcolm Sage nodded his head.

"Did the butler join you in your search?" he enquired.

"About five minutes later he did. He had to go back and put on some
things; he was rather sketchy when he turned up in the Mater's room."
Glanedale grinned at the recollection.

"And you?" Malcolm Sage flashed on him that steel grey look of
interrogation. For a moment the young man seemed embarrassed, and he
hesitated before replying.

"As a matter of fact, I hadn't turned in," he said at length.

"I see," said Malcolm Sage, and there was something in his tone that
caused Glanedale to look at him quickly.

"It was such a rippin' night that I sat at my bedroom window smoking,"
he explained a little nervously.

"Which is your bedroom window?"

Glanedale nodded in the direction of the farther end of the house.

"That's the governor's dressing-room," he said, indicating the window on
the left of that through which the burglar had escaped, "and the next is
mine."

"Did you see anything?" enquired Malcolm Sage, who, having unscrewed the
mouthpiece of his pipe, proceeded to clean it with a blade of grass.

Again there was the slightest suggestion of hesitation before Glanedale
replied.

"No, nothing. You see," he added hastily, "I was not looking out of the
window, merely sitting at it. As a matter of fact, I was facing the
other way."

"You heard no noise?"

Glanedale shook his head.

"So that the first intimation you had of anything being wrong was what?"
he asked.

"I heard the Mater at her door calling for assistance, and I went
immediately."

Malcolm Sage turned and regarded the water-pipe speculatively.

"I wonder if anyone really could climb up that," he said. "I'm sure I
couldn't."

"Nothing easier," said Glanedale. "I could shin up in two ticks," and he
made a movement towards the pipe.

"No," said Malcolm Sage, putting a detaining hand upon his arm. "If you
want to demonstrate your agility, try the other. There are marks on this
I want to preserve."

"Right-o," cried Glanedale with a laugh, and a moment later he was
shinning up the further pipe with the agility of a South Sea islander
after coconuts.

Malcolm Sage walked towards the pipe, glanced at it, and then at the
footprints beneath.

"You were quite right," he remarked casually. Then a moment later he
enquired: "Do you usually sit up late?"

"We're not exactly early birds," Glanedale replied a little
irrelevantly. "The Mater plays a lot of bridge, you know," he added.

"And that keeps you out of bed?"

"Yes and no," was the reply. "I can't afford to play with the Mater's
crowd; but I have to hang about until after they've gone. The governor
hates it. You see," he added confidentially, "when a man's had to make
his money, he knows the value of it."

"True," said Malcolm Sage, but from the look in his eyes his thoughts
seemed elsewhere.

"By the way, what time was it that you had a shower here last night?"

"A shower?" repeated Glanedale. "Oh! yes, I remember, it was just about
twelve o'clock; it only lasted about ten minutes."

"I'll think things over," said Malcolm Sage, and Glanedale, taking the
hint, strolled off towards the house.

Malcolm Sage walked over to where an old man was trimming a hedge.
"Could you lend me a trowel for half an hour?" he enquired.

"No, dang it, I can't," growled the old fellow. "I ain't a-going to lend
no more trowels or anythink else."

"Why?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"There's my best trowel gone out of the tool-house," he grumbled, "and I
ain't a-going to lend no others."

"How did it go?"

"How should I know?" he complained. "Walked out, I suppose, same as
trowels is always doin'."

"When did you miss it?"

"It was there day 'fore yesterday I'll swear, and I ain't a-going to
lend no more."

"Do you think the man who took the jewels stole it?" enquired Malcolm
Sage.

"Dang the jools," he retorted, "I want my trowel," and, grumbling to
himself, the old fellow shuffled off to the other end of the hedge.

Half an hour later Malcolm Sage was in Hyston, interviewing the
inspector of police, who was incoherent with excitement. He learned that
Scotland Yard was sending down a man that afternoon, furthermore that
elaborate enquiries were being made in the neighbourhood as to any
suspicious characters having recently been seen.

Malcolm Sage asked a number of questions, to which he received more or
less impatient replies. The inspector was convinced that the robbery was
the work of the same man who had got away with Mrs. Comminge's jewels,
and he was impatient with anyone who did not share this view.

From the police station Malcolm Sage went to The Painted Flag, where,
having ordered lunch, he got through to the Twentieth Century Insurance
Corporation, and made an appointment to meet one of the assessors at
Home Park at three o'clock.

CHAPTER X

A LESSON IN DEDUCTION

MR. GRIMWOOD, of the firm of Grimwood, Gallon and Davy, insurance
assessors, looked up from the list in his hand. He was a shrewd little
man, with side-whiskers, pince-nez that would never sit straight upon
his aquiline nose, and an impressive cough.

He glanced from Malcolm Sage to young Glanedale, then back again to
Malcolm Sage; finally he coughed.

The three men were seated in Sir Roger Glanedale's library awaiting the
coming of Lady Glanedale.

"And yet Mr. Glanedale heard nothing," remarked Mr. Grimwood musingly.
"Strange, very strange."

"Are you in the habit of sitting smoking at your bedroom window?"
enquired Malcolm Sage of Glanedale, his eyes averted.

"Er_no, not exactly," was the hesitating response.

"Can you remember when last you did such a thing?" was the next
question.

"I'm afraid I can't," said Glanedale, with an uneasy laugh.

"Perhaps you had seen something that puzzled you," continued Malcolm
Sage, his restless fingers tracing an imaginary design upon the polished
surface of the table before him.

Glanedale was silent. He fingered his moustache with a nervous hand. Mr.
Grimwood looked across at Malcolm Sage curiously.

"And you were watching in the hope of seeing something more," continued
Malcolm Sage.

"I--" began Glanedale, starting violently, then he stopped.

"Don't you think you had better tell us exactly what it was you saw,"
said Malcolm Sage, raising a pair of gold-rimmed eyes that mercilessly
beat down the uneasy gaze of the young man.

"I-I didn't say I saw anything."

"It is for you to decide, Mr. Glanedale," said Malcolm Sage, with an
almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, "whether it is better to
tell your story now, or under cross-examination in the witness-box.
There you will be under oath, and the proceedings will be public."

At that moment Lady Glanedale entered, and the three men rose. "I am
sorry to interrupt you," she said coldly, "but Sir Roger has just
telephoned and wishes to speak to Mr. Glanedale."

"I fear we shall have to keep Sir Roger waiting," said Malcolm Sage,
walking over to the door and closing it.

Lady Glanedale looked at him in surprise. "I do not understand," she
began.

"You will immediately," said Malcolm Sage quietly. "We were just
discussing the robbery." He slightly stressed the word "robbery."

"Really--" began Lady Glanedale.

"Mr. Glanedale was sitting at his window smoking," continued Malcolm
Sage evenly. "He cannot remember ever having done such a thing before. I
suggested that something unusual had attracted his attention, and that
he was waiting to see what would follow. I was just about to tell him
what had attracted his attention when you entered, Lady Glanedale."

Glanedale looked across at his step-mother and then at Malcolm Sage. His
misery was obvious.

"Last night, soon after twelve," continued Malcolm Sage, "Mr. Glanedale
happened to look out of his window and was surprised to see a figure
moving along towards the left. It was not the figure of a man with a
handkerchief tied across his face as a mask; but a woman. He watched. He
saw it pause beneath the second window of your bedroom, Lady Glanedale,
not the one by which the burglar entered. Then it stooped down."

Malcolm Sage's fingers seemed to be tracing each movement of the
mysterious figure upon the surface of the table. Lady Glanedale gazed at
his long, shapely hands as if hypnotised.

"Presently," he continued, "it returned to the first window, where it
was occupied for some minutes. Mr. Glanedale could not see this; but the
figure was engaged in making footprints and marking the sides of the
water-pipe with a shoe or boot as high up as it could reach. It--"

"How dare you make such an accusation!" cried Lady Glanedale, making an
effort to rise; but she sank back again in her chair, her face
plaster-white.

"I have made no accusation," said Malcolm Sage quietly. "I am telling
what Mr. Glanedale saw."

A hunted look sprang to Lady Glanedale's eyes. She tore her eyes from
those magnetic fingers and gazed about her wildly as if meditating
flight. Her throat seemed as if made of leather.

"Would you be prepared to deny all this in the witness-box under oath,
Mr. Glanedale?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

Glanedale looked at him with unseeing eyes, then across at his
step-mother.

"The woman had put on a pair of men's boots that the footprints might be
masculine. They were so much too large for her that she had to drag her
feet along the ground. The boots were those of a man weighing, say,
about eleven and a half stone; the weight inside those boots shown by
the impression in the mould was little more than seven stone."

Lady Glanedale put out her hand as if to ward off a blow; but Malcolm
Sage continued mercilessly, addressing Glanedale. "The length of a man's
stride is thirty inches; between these steps the space was less than
fifteen inches. Skirts are worn very narrow."

He paused, then, as Lady Glanedale made no reply, he turned to
Glanedale.

"I asked you this morning," he said, "to climb the other pipe for the
double purpose of examining the impress of your boots on the mould as
you left the ground and when you dropped back again on to the mould.
Also to see what sort of marks a pair of leather boots would make upon
the weatherworn paint of the pipe.

"As you sprang from the ground and clutched the pipe, there was a deep
impress on the mould of the soles of both boots, deep at the toes and
tapering off towards the heel. On your return you made distinct
heel-marks as well."

Lady Glanedale had buried her face in her hands. She must blot out the
sight of those terrible hands! Glanedale sat with his eyes upon Malcolm
Sage as if hypnotised.

"There was a shower of rain last night about twelve, an hour before the
alleged burglar arrived; yet the footprints were made before the rain
fell. In two cases leaves had been trodden into the footprints; yet on
these leaves were drops of rain just as they had fallen."

The hands seemed to draw the leaves and indicated the spots of water as
if they had been blood. Glanedale shuddered involuntarily.

"In the centre-part of the pipe there were no marks, although there were
light scratches for as high up as the arm of a short person could reach,
and as far down from the bedroom window as a similar arm could stretch.
These scratches were quite dissimilar from those made on the other
pipe."

Lady Glanedale moaned something unintelligible.

"Although there had been a shower and the mould was wet," proceeded
Malcolm Sage, "there were no marks of mud or mould on the pipe, on the
window-sill, or in Lady Glanedale's bedroom, which, I understand, had
purposely not been swept. A man had slid down that water-pipe; yet he
had done so without so much as removing the surface dust from the paint.

"He had reached the ground as lightly as a fairy, without making any
mark upon the mould; the footprints were merely those of someone
approaching and walking from the pipe."

Glanedale drew a cigarette case from his pocket; opened it, took out a
cigarette, then, hesitating a moment, replaced it, and returned the case
to his pocket, his eyes all the time on Malcolm Sage.

"I think," continued Malcolm Sage, "we shall find that the burglar has
buried the jewel-case a few yards to the right of the pipe he is
supposed to have climbed." His forefinger touched a spot on the extreme
right of the table. "There are indications that the mould has been
disturbed. Incidentally a trowel is missing--"

Glanedale suddenly sprang to his feet, just as Lady Glanedale fell
forward in her chair--she had fainted.

"It's a very unpleasant business," remarked Mr. Goodge, the General
Manager of the Twentieth Century Insurance Company, as he looked up from
reading a paper that Malcolm Sage had just handed to him. In it Lady
Glanedale confessed the fraud she had sought to practise upon the
Corporation. "A very unpleasant business," he repeated.

Malcolm Sage gazed down at his finger-nails, as if the matter had no
further interest for him. When his brain was inactive, his hands were at
rest.

"I don't know what view the Board will take," continued Mr. Goodge, as
Malcolm Sage made no comment.

"They will probably present me with another walking-stick," he remarked
indifferently.

Mr. Goodge laughed. Malcolm Sage's walking-stick had been a standing
joke between them.

"What made you first suspect Lady Glanedale?" he enquired.

"She had omitted to rehearse the episode of the burglary, and
consequently when it came to reconstructing the incident, she failed in
a very important particular." Malcolm Sage paused.

"What was that?" enquired Mr. Goodge with interest, as he pushed a box
of cigars towards Malcolm Sage, who, however, shaking his head,
proceeded to fill his pipe.

"She had already told me that the key of the safe was always kept
beneath a pile of handkerchiefs in one of the drawers of her
dressing-table; yet when I asked her to go through exactly the same
movements and actions as when the burglar entered her room, she rose
direct from the bed and went to the safe. The dressing-table was at the
other end of the room, and to get to it she would have had to pass the
spot where she said the man was standing."

Mr. Goodge nodded his head appreciatively.

"The next point was that I discovered it was Lady Glanedale who
suggested to the police inspector that means should be taken to prevent
anyone approaching the water-pipe by which the man was supposed to have
climbed. She was anxious that the footprints should be preserved.

"Another point was that young Glanedale happened to remark that his
step-mother was much addicted to bridge, and that the stakes were too
high to admit of his joining in. Also that men who have themselves
accumulated their wealth know the value of money. Sir Roger disliked
bridge and probably kept his lady short."

"Most likely," agreed Mr. Goodge. "He has the reputation of being a bit
shrewd in money matters. When did you begin to suspect Lady Glanedale?"

"From the first," was the reply. "Everything rang false. Lady
Glanedale's story suggested that it had been rehearsed until she had it
by heart," continued Malcolm Sage. "It was too straightforward, too
clearly expressed for the story of a woman who had just lost eight
thousand pounds' worth of jewels. When I put questions to her she
hesitated before replying, as if mentally comparing her intended answer
with what she had already told.

"Then she was so practical in preparing a list of the lost jewels at
once, and in warning her step-son not to go near the spot beneath her
window, as there might be footprints; this at a time when she was
supposed to be in a state of great excitement."

"Did you suspect young Glanedale at all?" queried Mr. Goodge.

"No," said Malcolm Sage, "but to make quite sure I cast doubt upon the
possibility of anyone climbing the pipe. If he had been concerned he
would not have volunteered to prove I was wrong."

"True," said Mr. Goodge as he examined critically the glowing end of his
cigar. "Lady Glanedale seems to have done the job very clumsily, now
that you have explained everything."

"Even the professional criminal frequently underrates the intelligence
of those whose business it is to frustrate him; but Lady Glanedale's
efforts in marking the water-pipe would not have deceived a child. A
powerful magnifying-glass will show that on all such exterior pipes
there is an accumulation of dust, which would be removed from a large
portion of the surface by anyone climbing either up or down. Lady
Glanedale had thought marks made by a boot or a shoe would be sufficient
confirmation of her story. She is rather a stupid woman," he added, as
he rose to go.

"I suppose she got the idea from the Comminge affair?"

"Undoubtedly," was the response; "but as I say, she is a stupid woman.
Vanity in crime is fatal; it leads the criminal to underrate the
intelligence of others. Lady Glanedale is intensely vain."

"The Board will probably want to thank you personally," said Mr. Goodge
as he shook hands; "but I'll try and prevent them from giving you
another walking-stick," he laughed as he opened the door.

CHAPTER XI

THE MCMURRAY MYSTERY

OF the many problems upon which Malcolm Sage was engaged during the
early days of the Malcolm Sage Bureau, that concerning the death of
Professor James McMurray, the eminent physiologist, was perhaps the most
extraordinary. It was possessed of several remarkable features; for one
thing the murderer had disappeared leaving no clue; for another the body
when found seemed to have undergone a strange change, many of the
professor's sixty-five years appearing to have dropped from him in death
as leaves from an autumn tree.

It was one of those strange crimes for which there is no apparent
explanation, consequently the strongest weapon the investigator has,
that of motive, was absent. As far as could be gathered the dead
professor had not an enemy in the world. He was a semi-recluse, with
nothing about him to tempt the burglar; yet he had been brutally done to
death in his own laboratory, and the murderer had made good his escape
without leaving anything likely to prove helpful to the police.

One day as Gladys Norman, like "panting Time," toiled after her work in
vain, striving to tap herself up to date with an accumulation of
correspondence, the telephone bell rang for what seemed to her the
umpteenth time that morning. She seized the receiver as a dog seizes a
rat, listened, murmured a few words in reply, then banged it back upon
its rest.

"Oh dear!" she sighed. "I wish they'd let him alone. The poor dear looks
tired out." She turned to William Johnson, who had just entered. "Why
don't you hurry up and become a man, Innocent," she demanded, "so that
you can help the Chief?"

William Johnson looked vague and shuffled his feet. His admiration of
Malcolm Sage's secretary rendered him self-conscious in her presence.

"Sir John Dene and Sir Jasper Chambers to see the Chief," he announced,
obviously impressed by the social importance of the callers.

"Sure it's not the Shah of Persia and Charlie Chaplin?" she asked
wearily as she rose from her table and, walking over to the door marked
"Private," passed into Malcolm Sage's room.

Re-appearing a moment later she instructed William Johnson to show the
visitors in at once.

As the two men passed through Miss Norman's room, they formed a striking
contrast. Sir John Dene short, thick-set, alert, with the stamp of the
West End upon all he wore; Sir Jasper Chambers tall, gaunt and dingy,
with a forehead like the bulging eaves of an Elizabethan house, and the
lower portion of his face a riot of short grizzled grey hair that seemed
to know neither coercion nor restraint. His neck appeared intent on
thrusting itself as far as possible out of the shabby frock-coat that
hung despairingly from his narrow shoulders.

"I wonder," murmured Gladys Norman, as she returned to her typing, "how
many geraniums he had to give for those clothes."

"Mornin', Mr. Sage," cried Sir John Dene.

Malcolm Sage rose. There was an unwonted cordiality in the way in which
he extended his hand.

"This is Sir Jasper Chambers." Sir John Dene turned to his companion.
"You'll be able to place him," and he twirled the unlit cheroot between
his lips with bewildering rapidity.

Sir Jasper bowed with an old-world courtliness and grace that seemed
strangely out of keeping with his lank and un-picturesque bearing.
Malcolm Sage, however, held out his hand with the air of one wishing to
convey that a friend of Sir John Dene merited special consideration.

He motioned the two men to seats and resumed his own. Both declined the
box of cigars he proffered. Sir John Dene preferring the well-chewed
cheroot between his lips, whilst Sir Jasper drew a pipe from the
tail-pocket of his frock-coat, which with long fleshless fingers he
proceeded to fill from a chamois-leather tobacco pouch.

"I've brought Sir Jasper along," said Sir John Dene. "You've heard about
the murder of his friend Professor McMurray. He didn't want to come; but
I told him you'd, be tickled to death, and that you'd get it all figured
out for him in two wags of a chipmunk's tail."

Malcolm Sage looked across at the eminent philanthropist, whose whole
attention seemed absorbed in the filling of his well-worn briar.

Sir Jasper's wise charities and great humanitarianism were world-famous.
It was Will Blink, the Labour demagogue, who had said that of all the
honours conferred during the century, Sir Jasper Chambers' O.M. had
alone been earned, the others had been either bought or wangled.

The McMurray Murder was the sensation of the hour. The newspapers had
"stunted" it, and the public, always eager for gruesome sensation, had
welcomed it as if it had been a Mary Pickford film.

Four days previously. Professor James McMurray of Gorling, in Essex, had
been found dead in his laboratory, his head fearfully battered in by
some blunt instrument.

It was the professor's custom, when engaged upon important research
work, to retire, sometimes for days at a time, to a laboratory he had
built in his own grounds.

Meals were passed through a small wicket, specially constructed for that
purpose in the laboratory wall, and the professor's servants had the
most explicit instructions on no account to disturb him.

A fortnight previously Professor McMurray had retired to his laboratory
to carry out an important series of experiments. He informed his butler
that Sir Jasper Chambers, his lifelong friend, would visit him on the
third day, and that dinner for two was to be supplied in the usual way,
through the wicket.

On the evening in question, Sir Jasper Chambers had arrived and stayed
until a little past nine. He then left the laboratory and proceeded to
the house, where he told the butler that his master was quite well, and
that in all probability his researches would occupy him another week.

Eight days later, when the butler took the professor's luncheon down to
the laboratory, he noticed that the breakfast-tray had not been removed
from the shelf just inside the wicket. Convinced that the professor had
been so absorbed in his researches that he had forgotten the meal, the
butler placed the luncheon-tray beside that containing the breakfast,
thinking it better to leave the earlier meal as a reminder to the
professor of his forgetfulness.

At dinner-time the butler was greatly surprised to find that both
breakfast and luncheon had remained as he had left them; still,
remembering how definite and insistent the professor had been that he
was not to be disturbed, the butler had, after consulting with the
housekeeper, decided to do nothing for the moment, and contented himself
with ringing several times the electric bell that was the signal of
another meal.

An hour later he went once more to the wicket, only to discover that
nothing had been touched. Hurrying back to the house with all speed he
had conferred with Mrs. Graham, the housekeeper, and, on her insistence,
he had telephoned to the police.

Sergeant Crudden of the Essex County Constabulary immediately bicycled
over to "The Hollows," Professor McMurray's residence, and, after
hearing the butler's story, he had decided to force the door; there are
no windows, the laboratory being lighted from above, in order to secure
entire privacy.

To the officer's surprise the door yielded readily, having apparently
been previously forced. Entering the laboratory he was horrified to
discover the body of the professor lying in the centre of the floor, his
head literally smashed by a terrible blow that had obviously been
delivered from behind.

Acting on the instructions of the police sergeant, the butler had
telephoned the news to the police station at Strinton with the result
that shortly afterwards Inspector Brewitt arrived with a doctor.

The police had made no statement; but there were some extraordinary
rumours current in the neighbourhood. One was to the effect that it was
not Professor McMurray's body that had been discovered; but that of a
much younger man who bore a striking resemblance to him.

"You have seen the accounts of my friend's terrible end?" enquired Sir
Jasper, as he took the box of matches Malcolm Sage handed him and
proceeded to light his pipe.

Malcolm Sage nodded. His gaze was fixed upon Sir Jasper's grey worsted
socks, which concertinaed up his legs above a pair of
strangely-fashioned black shoes.

"He was about to enter upon a series of experiments with a serum he had
discovered, his object being to lengthen human life."

Sir Jasper spoke in a gentle, well-modulated voice, in which was a deep
note of sadness. He and Professor McMurray had been life-long friends,
their intimacy appearing to become strengthened by the passage of years.

"You were the last to see him alive, I understand." Malcolm Sage picked
up his fountain pen and began an elaborate stipple design of a serpent
upon the blotting pad.

"Eight days before he was found, I dined with him," said Sir Jasper, his
voice a little unsteady.

"What happened?" Malcolm Sage enquired without looking up.

"I arrived at seven o'clock," continued Sir Jasper. "From then until
half-past we talked upon things of general interest after which we
dined. Later he told me he was about to enter upon a final series of
experiments, the result of which would, in all probability, either be
fatal to himself, or mean the lengthening of human life."

He paused, gazing straight in front of him, ejecting smoke from his lips
in staccatoed puffs. Then he continued: "He said that he had recently
made a will, which was lying with his solicitor, and he gave me certain
additional instructions as to the disposal of his property."

"Did he seem quite normal?" enquired Malcolm Sage, adding a pair of
formidable fangs to his reptile.

"He was calm and confident. At parting he told me I should be the first
to know the result."

"Have you any reason to believe that Professor McMurray had enemies?"
Malcolm Sage enquired.

"None," was the reply, uttered in a tone of deep conviction, accompanied
by a deliberate wagging of the head.

"He was confident of the success of his experiments?"

"Absolutely."

"And you?"

"I had no means of knowing," was the reply.

"You were his greatest friend and his only confidant?" suggested Malcolm
Sage, adding the sixth pair of legs to his creation.

"Yes."

"And you were to be the first to be told of the result of the
experiments?"

"Those were his last words to me." There was a suggestion of emotion in
Sir Jasper's otherwise even voice.

"Can you remember his actual words?"

"Yes; I remember them," he replied sadly. "As we shook hands he said,
'Well, Chambers, you will be the first to know the result.'"

Again there was silence, broken at length by Malcolm Sage, who stroked
the back of his head with his left hand. His eyes had returned to Sir
Jasper's socks.

"Do you think the professor had been successful in his experiments?" he
enquired.

"I cannot say." Again Sir Jasper shook his head slowly and deliberately.

"Did you see the body?"

"I did."

"Is there any truth in the rumours that he looked much younger?"

"There was certainly a marked change, a startling change," was the
reply.

"But death plays odd tricks with years," suggested Malcolm Sage, who was
now feeling the lobe of his left ear as if to assure himself of its
presence.

"True," said Sir Jasper, nodding his head as if pondering the matter
deeply. "True."

"There was an article in last month's The Present Century by Sir Kelper
Jevons entitled 'The Dangers of Longevity.' Did you read it?" enquired
Malcolm Sage.

"I did."

"I read it too," broke in Sir John Dene, who had hitherto remained an
interested listener, as he sat twirling round between his lips the still
unlit cheroot. "A pretty dangerous business it seems to me, this
monkeying about with people's glands."

"It called attention to the danger of any interference with Nature's
carefully-adjusted balances between life and death," continued Malcolm
Sage, who had returned to the serpent, which now sported a pair of horns,
"and was insistent that the lengthening of human life could result only
in harm to the community. Do you happen to know if Professor McMurray
had seen this?"

"He had." Sir Jasper leaned forward to knock the ashes from his pipe
into the copper tray on Malcolm Sage's table. "We talked of it during
dinner that evening. His contention was that science could not be
constricted by utilitarianism, and that Nature would adjust her balances
to the new conditions."

"But," grumbled Sir John Dene, "it wouldn't be until there had been
about the tallest kind of financial panic this little globe of misery
has ever seen."

"The article maintained that there would be an intervening period of
chaos," remarked Malcolm Sage meditatively, as he opened a drawer and
took from it a copy of The Present Century. "I was particularly struck
with this passage," he remarked:

"'It is impossible to exaggerate the extreme delicacy of the machinery
of modern civilization,' he read. 'Industrialism, the food supply,
existence itself are dependent upon the death rate. Reduce this
materially and it will inevitably lead to an upheaval of a very grave
nature. For instance, it would mean an addition of something like a
million to the population of the United Kingdom each year, over and
above those provided for by the normal excess of births over deaths, and
it would be years before Nature could readjust her balances.'"

Malcolm Sage looked across at Sir Jasper, who for some seconds remained
silent, apparently deep in thought. "I think," he said presently, with
the air of a man carefully weighing his words, "that McMurray was
inclined to underestimate the extreme delicacy of the machinery of modem
civilisation. I recall his saying that the arguments in that article
would apply only in the very unlikely event of someone meeting with
unqualified success. That is to say, by the discovery of a serum that
would achieve what the Spaniards hoped of the Fountain of Eternal Youth,
an instantaneous transformation from age to youth."

"A sort of Faust stunt," murmured Sir John Dene.

Sir Jasper nodded his head gravely.

For some minutes the three men sat silent. Sir Jasper gazing straight in
front of him, Sir John Dene twirling his cheroot between his lips, his
eyes fixed upon the bald dome-like head of Malcolm Sage, whose eyes were
still intent upon his horned reptile, which he had adorned with wings.
He appeared to be thinking deeply.

"It's up to you, Mr. Sage, to get on the murderer's trail," said Sir
John Dene at length, with the air of a man who has no doubt as to the
result.

"You wish me to take up the case, Sir John?" enquired Malcolm Sage,
looking up suddenly.

"Sure," said Sir John Dene as he rose. "I'll take it as a particular
favour if you will. Now I must vamoose. I've got a date in the city." He
jerked himself to his feet and extended a hand to Malcolm Sage. Then
turning to Sir Jasper, who had also risen, he added, "You leave it to
Mr. Sage, Sir Jasper. Before long you won't see him for dust. He's about
the livest wire this side of the St. Lawrence," and with this
enigmatical assurance, he walked to the door, whilst Malcolm Sage shook
hands with Sir Jasper.

"Johnnie," said Miss Norman, as William Johnson entered her room in
response to a peremptory call on the private telephone, "Inspector
Carfon is to honour us with a call during me next few minutes. Give him
a chair and a copy of The Sunday at Home, and watch the clues as they
peep out of his pockets. Now buzz off."

William Johnson returned to his table in the outer office and the lurid
detective story from which Miss Norman's summons had torn him. He was
always gratified when an officer from Scotland Yard called; it seemed to
bring him a step nearer to the great crook-world of his dreams. William
Johnson possessed imagination; but it was the imagination of the films.

A quarter of an hour later he held open the door of Malcolm Sage's
private room to admit Inspector Carfon, a tall man with small features
and a large forehead, above which the fair hair had been sadly thinned
by the persistent wearing of a helmet in the early days of his career.

"I got your message, Mr. Sage," he began, as he flopped into a chair on
the opposite side of Malcolm Sage's table. "This McMurray case is a
teaser. I shall be glad to talk it over with you."

"I am acting on behalf of Sir Jasper Chambers," said Malcolm Sage. "It's
very kind of you to come round so promptly, Carfon," he added, pushing a
box of cigars towards the inspector.

"Not at all, Mr. Sage," said Inspector Carfon as he selected a cigar.
"Always glad to do what we can, although we are supposed to be a bit
old-fashioned," and he laughed the laugh of a man who can afford to be
tolerant.

"I've seen all there is in the papers," said Malcolm Sage. "Are there
any additional particulars?"

"There's one thing we haven't told the papers, and it wasn't emphasised
at the inquest." The inspector leaned forward impressively.

Malcolm Sage remained immobile, his eyes on his fingernails.

"The doctor," continued the inspector, "says that the professor had been
dead for about forty-eight hours, whereas we know he'd eaten a dinner
about twenty-six hours before he was found."

Malcolm Sage looked up slowly. In his eyes there was an alert look that
told of keen interest.

"You challenged him?" he queried.

"Rather!" was the response, "but he got quite ratty. Said he'd stake his
professional reputation and all that sort of thing."

Malcolm Sage meditatively inclined his head several times in succession;
his hand felt mechanically for his fountain pen.

"Then there was another thing that struck me as odd," continued
Inspector Carfon, intently examining the end of his cigar. "The
professor had evidently been destroying a lot of old correspondence. The
paper-basket was full of torn-up letters and envelopes, and the grate
was choc-a-bloc with charred paper. That also we kept to ourselves."

"That all?"

"I think so," was the reply. "There's not the vestige of a clue that I
can find."

"I see," said Malcolm Sage, looking at a press cutting lying before him,
"that it says there was a remarkable change in the professor's
appearance. He seemed to have become rejuvenated."

"The doctor said that sometimes 'death smites with a velvet hand.' He
was rather a poetic sort of chap," the inspector added by way of
explanation.

"He saw nothing extraordinary in the circumstance?"

"No," was the response. "He seemed to think he was the only one who had
ever seen a dead man before. I wouldn't mind betting I've seen as many
stiffs as he has, although perhaps he's caused more."

Then as Malcolm Sage made no comment, the inspector proceeded.

"What I want to know is what was the professor doing while the door was
being broken open?"

"There were no signs of a struggle?" enquired Malcolm Sage, drawing a
cottage upon his thumb-nail.

"None. He seems to have been attacked unexpectedly from behind."

"Was there anything missing?"

"We're not absolutely sure. The professor's gold watch can't be found;
but the butler is not certain that he had it on him."

For some time there was silence. Malcolm Sage appeared to be pondering
over the additional facts he had just heard.

"What do you want me to do, Mr. Sage?" enquired the inspector at length.

"I was wondering whether you would run down with me this afternoon to
Gorling."

"I'd be delighted," was the hearty response. "Somehow or other I feel
it's not an ordinary murder. There's something behind it all."

"What makes you think that?" Malcolm Sage looked up sharply.

"Frankly, I can't say, Mr. Sage," he confessed a little shamefacedly,
"it's just a feeling I have."

"The laboratory has been locked up?"

"Yes; and I've sealed the door. Nothing has been touched."

Malcolm Sage nodded his head approvingly and, for fully five minutes,
continued to gaze down at his hands spread out on the table before him.

"Thank you, Carfon. Be here at half-past two."

"The funeral's to-day, by the way," said the inspector as he rose and,
with a genial "good morning," left the room.

For the next hour Malcolm Sage was engaged in reading the newspaper
accounts of the McMurray Mystery, which he had already caused to be
pasted up in the current press-cutting book; he gathered little more
from them, however, than he already knew.

That afternoon, accompanied by Inspector Carfon, Malcolm Sage motored
down to "The Hollows," which lies at the easternmost end of the village
of Gorling.

The inspector stopped the car just as it entered the drive. The two men
alighted and, turning sharply to the right, walked across the lawn
towards an ugly red-brick building, screened from the house by a belt of
trees. Malcolm Sage had expressed a wish to see the laboratory first.

It was a strange-looking structure, some fifty feet long by about twenty
feet wide, with a door on the further side. In the red-brick wall nearer
the house there was nothing to break the monotony except the small
wicket through which the professor's meals were passed.

Malcolm Sage twice walked deliberately round the building. In the
meantime the inspector had removed the seal from the padlock and opened
the door.

"Did you photograph the position of the body?" enquired Malcolm Sage, as
they entered.

"I hadn't a photographer handy," said the inspector apologetically, as
he closed the door behind him; "but I managed to get a man to photograph
the wound."

"Put yourself in the position of the body," said Malcolm Sage.

The inspector walked to the centre of the room, near a highly-polished
table, dropped on to the floor and, after a moment's pause, turned and
lay on his left side, with right arm outstretched.

From just inside the door Malcolm Sage looked about him. At the left
extremity a second door gave access to another apartment, which the
professor used as a bedroom.

A little to the right of the door, on the opposite side, stood the
fireplace. This was full of ashes, apparently the charred remains of a
quantity of paper that had been burnt. On the hearth were several
partially-charred envelopes, and the paper-basket contained a number of
torn-up letters.

"That will do, Carfon," said Malcolm Sage, as he walked over to the
fireplace and, dropping on one knee, carefully examined the ashes,
touching them here and there with the poker.

He picked up something that glittered and held it out to the inspector
who scrambled to his feet, and stood looking down with keen professional
interest.

"Piece of a test tube," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he placed the small
piece of glass upon the table.

"Moses' aunt!" gasped the inspector. "I missed that, though I saw a lot
of bits of glass. I thought it was an electric bulb."

"Somebody had ground it to powder with his heel, all except this piece.
Looks as if there might have been more than one," he added more to
himself than to the inspector.

"These are not letters," he continued without looking up.

"Not letters?"

"The paper is all of the same quality. By the way, has anyone disturbed
it?" He indicated the grate.

"No one," was the reply.

Malcolm Sage rose to his feet. For some minutes he stood looking down at
the fireplace, stroking the back of his head, deep in thought.

Presently he picked up the poker, a massive steel affair, and proceeded
to examine the fire-end with great minuteness.

"It was done with the other end," said the inspector. "He must have
wiped it afterwards. There was no sign of blood or hair."

Malcolm Sage ignored the remark, and continued to regard the
business end of the poker. Walking over to the door he examined the
fastenings. Having taken a general survey he next proceeded to a
detailed scrutiny of everything the place contained. From the fireplace
he picked up what looked like a cinder and placed it in a small box,
which he put in his pocket.

The polished surface of the table he subjected to a careful examination,
borrowing the inspector's magnifying glass for the purpose. On hands and
knees he crawled round the table, still using the magnifying glass upon
the linoleum, with which the floor was covered. From time to time he
would pick up some apparently minute object and transfer it to another
small box. At length he rose to his feet as if satisfied.

"The professor did not smoke?" he queried.

"No; but the murderer did," was the rather brusque reply. Inspector
Carfon was finding the role of audience trying, alike to his nerves and
to his temper.

"Obviously," was Malcolm Sage's dry retort. "He also left his pipe
behind and had to return for it. It was rather a foul pipe, too," he
added.

"Left his pipe behind!" cried the inspector, his irritation dropping
from him like a garment. "How on earth--!" In his surprise he left the
sentence unfinished.

"Here," Malcolm Sage indicated a dark stain on the highly-polished
table, "and here," he pointed to a few flecks of ash some four or five
inches distant, "are indications that a pipe has remained for some
considerable time, long enough for the nicotine to drain through the
stem; it was a very foul pipe, Carfon."

"But mightn't that have trickled out in a few minutes, or while the man
was here?" objected Inspector Carfon.

"With a wet smoker the saliva might have drained back," said Malcolm
Sage, his eyes upon the stain, "but this is nicotine from higher up the
stem, which would take time to flow out. As to leaving it on the table,
what inveterate smoker would allow a pipe to lie on a table for any
length of time unless he left it behind him? The man smoked like a
chimney, look at the tobacco ash in the fireplace."

The inspector stared at Malcolm Sage, chagrin in his look.

"Now that photograph, Carfon," said Malcolm Sage. Taking a letter-case
from his breast-pocket. Inspector Carfon drew out a photograph folded in
half. This he handed to Malcolm Sage, who, after a keen glance at the
grim and gruesome picture, put it in his pocket.

"I thought so," he murmured.

"Thought what, Mr. Sage?" enquired the inspector eagerly.

"Left-handed." When keenly interested Malcolm Sage was more than usually
economical in words. "Clean through the left side of the occipital
bone," Malcolm Sage continued. "No right-handed man could have delivered
such a blow. That confirms the poker."

The inspector stared.

"The sockets of the bolts, and that of the lock, have been loosened from
the inside with the poker," explained Malcolm Sage in a matter-of-fact
tone. "The marks upon the poker suggest a left-handed man. The wound in
the head proves it."

"Then the forced door was a blind?" gasped the inspector.

"The murderer was let in by the professor himself, who was subsequently
attacked from behind as he stood with his back to the fireplace. You are
sure the grate has not been touched?" He suddenly raised his eyes in
keen interrogation.

Inspector Carfon shook his head. He had not yet recovered from his
surprise.

"Someone has stirred the ashes about so as to break up the charred
leaves into small pieces to make identification impossible. This man has
a brain," he added.

The inspector gave vent to a prolonged whistle. "I knew there was
something funny about the whole business," he said as if in
self-defence.

Malcolm Sage had seated himself at the table, his long thin fingers
outspread before him. Suddenly he gave utterance to an exclamation of
annoyance.

The inspector bent eagerly forward.

"The pipe," he murmured. "I was wrong. He put it down because he was
absorbed in something, probably the papers he burnt."

"Then you think the murderer burnt the papers?" enquired the inspector
in surprise.

"Who else?" asked Malcolm Sage, rising. "Now we'll see the butler."

Whilst the inspector was locking and re-sealing the door, Malcolm Sage
walked round the building several times in widening circles, examining
the ground carefully; but there had been no rain for several weeks, and
nothing upon its surface suggested a footprint.

CHAPTER XII

THE MARMALADE CLUE

A Malcolm Sage and Inspector Carfon crossed the lawn from the
laboratory, Sir Jasper Chambers was seen coming down the drive towards
them.

"There's Sir Jasper," cried the inspector.

When they reached the point where the lawn joined the drive they paused,
waiting for Sir Jasper to approach. He walked with long, loose strides,
his head thrust forward, his mind evidently absorbed and far away from
where he was. His coat flapped behind him, and at each step his trousers
jerked upwards, displaying several inches of grey worsted sock.

"Good afternoon, Sir Jasper," said Inspector Carfon, stepping forward
and lifting his hat.

Sir Jasper stopped dead, with the air of one who has suddenly been
brought to a realisation of his whereabouts. For a moment he stared
blankly, then apparently recognition came to his aid.

"Good afternoon, inspector," he responded, lifting his black felt hat
with a graceful motion that seemed strangely out-of-keeping with his
grotesque appearance. In the salutation he managed to include Malcolm
Sage, who acknowledged it with his customary jerky nod.

"We have just been looking at the laboratory," said the inspector.

"Ah!" Sir Jasper nodded his head several times. "The laboratory!"

"Will you oblige me with your pouch, Carfon," said Malcolm Sage, drawing
his pipe from his pocket. "I've lost mine."

Inspector Carfon thrust his hand into his left-hand pocket, then began
to go hurriedly through his other pockets with the air of a man who has
lost something.

"I had it a quarter of an hour ago," he said. "I must have dropped it in
the--"

"Allow me, sir," said Sir Jasper, extending to Malcolm Sage his own
pouch, which he had extracted from his tail-pocket whilst the inspector
was still engaged in his search. Malcolm Sage took it and with a nod
proceeded to fill his.

'Looks like Craven Mixture," he remarked without looking up from the
pipe which he was cramming from Sir Jasper's pouch. Malcolm Sage was an
epicure in tobacco.

"No; it's Ormonde Mixture," was the reply. "I always smoke it. It is
singularly mellow," he added, "singularly mellow." He continued to look
straight in front of him, whilst the inspector appeared anxious to get
on to the house.

Having completed his task, Malcolm Sage folded the tobacco-pouch and
handed it back to Sir Jasper. "Thank you," he said, and proceeded to
light his pipe.

Apparently seeing nothing to detain him further, Sir Jasper lifted his
hat, bowed and passed on.

"Regular old cove, isn't he?" remarked the inspector as they watched the
ungainly figure disappear round the bend of the drive.

"A great man, Carfon," murmured Malcolm Sage, "a very great man," and he
turned and walked towards the house.

The front door of "The Hollows" was opened by the butler, a gentle-faced
old man, in appearance rather like a mid-Victorian lawyer. At the sight
of the inspector, a troubled look came into his eyes.

"I want to have a few words with you," said Malcolm Sage quietly.

The old man led the way to the library. Throwing open the door for them
to pass in, he followed and closed it behind him. Malcolm Sage seated
himself at the table and Inspector Carfon also dropped into a chair. The
butler stood, his hands half-closed before him, the palm of one resting
upon the knuckles of the other. His whole attitude was half-nervous,
half-fearful, and wholly deprecating.

"I'm afraid this has been a great shock to you," said Malcolm Sage.

Inspector Carfon glanced across at him. There was an unaccustomed note
of gentleness in his tone.

"It has indeed, sir," said the butler, and two tears gathered upon his
lower lids, hung pendulous for a second, then raced one another down
either side of his nose. It was the first sympathetic word the old man
had heard since the police had arrived, insatiable for facts.

"Sit down," said Malcolm Sage, without looking up, "I shall not keep you
many minutes." His tone was that one might adopt to a child.

The old man obeyed, seating himself upon the edge of the chair, one hand
still placed upon the other.

"You mustn't think because the police ask a lot of questions that they
mean to be unkind," said Malcolm Sage.

"I-I believe they think I did it," the old man quavered, "and-and I'd
have done anything--"His voice broke, the tears coursing down his
colourless cheeks.

"I want you to try to help me find out who did kill your master,"
continued Malcolm Sage, in the same tone, "and you can do that by
answering my questions."

There was no restless movement of fingers now. The hard, keen look had
left his eyes, and his whole attention seemed to be concentrated upon
soothing the old man before him.

With an obvious effort the butler strove to control himself.

"Did the professor ever have visitors at his laboratory?"

"Only Sir Jasper, sir. He was--"

"Just answer my questions," said Malcolm Sage gently. "He told you, I
think, never on any account to disturb him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you ever do so?"

"Only once, sir."

"That was?"

"When Mrs. Graham, that's the housekeeper, sir, set fire to the curtains
of her room. I was afraid for the house, sir, and I ran down and knocked
at the laboratory door."

"Did the professor open it?"

"No, sir."

"Perhaps he did not hear you?"

"Yes, he did, sir. I knocked and kicked for a long time, then I ran back
to the house and found the fire had been put out."

"Did Professor McMurray ever refer to the matter?"

"He was very angry when I next saw him, sir, three days later."

"What did he say?"

"That neither fire or murder was an excuse for interrupting him, and if
I did it again I would have to--"

"Quite so," interrupted Malcolm Sage, desirous of saving the old
servitor the humiliation of explaining that he had been threatened with
dismissal.

"So you are confident in your own mind that no amount of knocking at the
door would have caused your master to open it?"

"Quite certain, sir," the butler said with deep conviction. "If he had
heard me murdering Mrs. Graham he wouldn't have come out," he added
gravely. "He used to say that man is for the moment; but research is for
all time. He was a very wonderful man, sir," he added earnestly.

"So that to get into the laboratory someone must have had a duplicate
key?"

"No, sir, the professor always bolted the door on the inside."

"Then he must have opened it himself?"

"He wouldn't, sir. I'm sure he wouldn't."

"But how did Sir Jasper get in?"

"He was expected, sir, and when he went to the laboratory, the master
always ordered extra food. He was very absent-minded, sir; but he always
remembered that. He was very considerate, sir, too. He never forgot my
birthday," and he broke down completely, his frail body shaken by sobs.

Rising, Malcolm Sage placed his hand upon the old man's shoulder. As if
conscious of the unspoken message of sympathy inspired by the touch, the
butler clasped the hand in both his own.

Inspector Carfon looked surprised.

"He was so kind, sir, so kind and thoughtful," he quavered. "I don't
know what I shall do without him." There was in his voice something of
the querulous appeal of a little child.

"Were letters ever taken to the laboratory?" enquired Malcolm Sage,
walking over to the window and gazing out.

"Never, sir," was the reply. "Everything was kept until the professor
returned to the house, even telegrams."

"Then he was absolutely cut off?" said Malcolm Sage returning to his
seat.

"That was what he used to say, sir, that he wanted to feel cut off from
everybody and everything."

"You have seen the body?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you notice anything remarkable about it?"

"He was more like he was some thirty years ago, sir."

"Rejuvenated, in fact."

"I beg pardon, sir?"

"He seemed to have become suddenly a much younger man?" explained
Malcolm Sage.

"Yes, sir. I've been with him over thirty years, and he looked very much
as he did then, except, of course, that his hair remained grey."

"Apart from the food not being taken in, you noticed nothing else that
struck you as strange?" queried Malcolm Sage.

The old man puckered up his eyebrows, as if genuinely anxious to
remember something that would please the man who had shown him so much
sympathy.

"I can't think of anything, sir," he said at length, apologetically,
"only the marmalade, and that, of course, wouldn't--"

"The marmalade?" Malcolm Sage turned quickly.

"It was nothing, sir," said the old man. "Perhaps I oughtn't to have
mentioned it; but the morning before we found him, the master had not
eaten any marmalade, and him so fond of it. I was rather worried, and I
asked Mrs. Graham if it was a new brand, thinking perhaps he didn't like
it; but I found it was the same he always had."

For fully a minute Malcolm Sage was silent, gazing straight before him.

"He never smoked?" he asked at length.

"Never, sir, not during the whole thirty years I've been with him."

"Who cleaned the laboratory? It did not look as if it had been unswept
for a week."

"No, indeed, sir," was the reply, "the professor was very particular. He
always swept it up himself each morning. It was cleaned by one of the
servants once a month."

"You're sure about the sweeping-up?" Malcolm Sage enquired, with a keen
glance that with him always meant an important point.

"Quite certain, sir."

"That, I think, will be all."

"Thank you, sir," said the butler, rising. "Thank you for being so kind,
and-and understanding, sir," and he walked a little unsteadily from the
room.

"I was afraid you wouldn't get anything out of him, Mr. Sage," said
Inspector Carfon, with just a suspicion of relief in his voice.

"No," remarked Malcolm Sage quietly, "nothing new; but an important
corroboration of the doctor's evidence."

"What was that?"

"That it was the murderer and not Professor McMurray who ate Wednesday's
breakfast, luncheon and dinner."

"Good Lord!" The inspector's jaw dropped in his astonishment.

"I suspect that for some reason or other he returned to the laboratory;
that accounts for the rough marks upon the door-fastenings as if someone
had first torn them off and then sought to replace them. After his
second visit the murderer evidently stayed too long, and was afraid of
being seen leaving the laboratory. He therefore remained until the
following night, eating the professor's meals. Incidentally he knew all
about his habits."

"Well, I'm blowed if he isn't a cool 'un!" gasped the inspector.

Malcolm Sage rose with the air of one who has concluded the business on
hand.

"Can I run you back to town, Carfon?" he asked, as he walked towards the
door.

"No, thank you," said the inspector. "I must go over to Strinton and see
Brewitt. He's following up a clue he's got. Some tramp who was seen
hanging about here for a couple of days just before the murder," he
added.

"Unless he is tall and powerful, left-handed, with something more than a
layman's knowledge of surgery, you had better not trouble about him,"
said Malcolm Sage quietly. "You might also note that the murderer
belongs to the upper, or middle class, has an iron nerve, and is
strongly humanitarian." For a moment Inspector Carfon stared at Malcolm
Sage with lengthened jaw. Then suddenly he laughed, a laugh of obvious
relief.

"At first I thought you were serious, Mr. Sage," he said "till I saw
what you were up to. It's just like the story-book detectives," and he
laughed again, this time more convincingly.

Malcolm Sage shrugged his shoulders. "Let me have a description of the
man when you get him," he said, "and some of the tobacco he smokes. Try
him with marmalade, Carfon and plenty of it. By the way, you make a
great mistake in not reading The Present Century," he added. "It can be
curiously instructive," and without another word he crossed the hall
and, a moment later, entered his car.

"Swank!" murmured Inspector Carfon angrily, as he watched Tims swing the
car down the drive at a dangerous rate of speed, "pure, unadulterated,
brain-rotting swank," and he in turn passed down the drive, determined
to let Malcolm Sage see what he could do "on his own."

Three weeks passed and there was no development in the McMurray Mystery.
Malcolm Sage had heard nothing from Inspector Carfon, who was busily
engaged in an endeavour to trace the tramp seen in the neighbourhood of
"The Hollows" on the day previous to the murder.

Sir John Dene had called several times upon Malcolm Sage, whom he had
come to regard as infallible, only to be told that there was no news. He
made no comment; but it was obvious that he was greatly disappointed.

Interest began to wane, the newspapers devoted themselves to other
"stunts," and the McMurray Mystery seemed fated to swell the list of
unfathomed crimes with which, from time to time, the Press likes to twit
Scotland Yard.

Suddenly the whole affair flared up anew, and Fleet Street once more
devoted itself and its columns to the death of Professor James McMurray.

A brief announcement that a man of the vagrant class had been arrested
in London whilst endeavouring to sell a gold watch believed to be that
of Professor McMurray, was the first spark. Later the watch was
identified and the man charged with the murder. He protested his
innocence, saying that he had picked up the watch by the roadside, just
outside Gorling, nearly a month before. There were bloodstains on his
clothes, which he explained by saying he had been fighting with another
man who had made his nose bleed.

Inspector Carfon, unable to keep a note of triumph out of his voice, had
telephoned the news to Malcolm Sage, who had asked for particulars of
the man, his pipe, and a specimen of his tobacco; but day after day had
passed without these being forthcoming. Finally the man, against whom
the police had built up a damaging case, had been committed for trial.

Two weeks later he was found guilty at the assizes and sentenced to
death.

Then it was that Malcolm Sage had written to Inspector Carfon curtly
asking him to call at eleven on the following day, bringing with him the
information for which he had asked. At the same time he wrote to Sir
John Dene and Sir Jasper Chambers.

Punctually at eleven on the following morning the inspector called at
the Malcolm Sage Bureau.

"Sorry, Mr. Sage," he said, as he entered Malcolm Sage's room, "I've
been so rushed that I haven't been able to get round," and he dropped
into the chair on the opposite side of the table.

Malcolm Sage pushed across the cigar box. "That's his tobacco box," said
Inspector Carfon, placing on the table a small tin box.

Opening it, and after a swift glance at the contents, Malcolm Sage
raised it to his nose: "Cigarette ends," he remarked without looking up.

"And that's his pipe." The inspector laid on the table a black clay
pipe, with some two inches of stem attached to the bowl.

Malcolm Sage scarcely glanced at it. Pulling out a drawer he produced a
small cardboard box, which he opened and pushed towards the inspector.

"That is the tobacco smoked by the murderer. The makers are prepared to
swear to it."

"Where the deuce did you get it?" gasped the inspector. "Grain by grain
from the linoleum in the laboratory," replied Malcolm Sage. "That is why
it was necessary to be sure it was swept each day. It also helped me to
establish the man as middle or upper class. This tobacco is expensive.
What is the man like who has been condemned?"

"A regular wandering willie," replied the inspector. "Oldish chap, gives
his age as sixty-one. Five foot three and a half thin as a rake,
twenty-nine inch chest. Miserable sort of devil. Says he picked up the
watch about a quarter of a mile from 'The Hollows' early one morning."

"Does he eat marmalade?"

"Eat it!" the inspector laughed. "He wolfs it. I remembered what you
said and took a pound along with me to Strinton, just for fun." He
looked across at Malcolm Sage a little shamefacedly. "I afterwards heard
that there was only the jar and the label left; but I don't see what all
this has to do with it. The fellow's got to swing for it and--"

"Carfon, you've made a fool of yourself."

The inspector started back in his chair as if someone had struck him.

"I gave you a description of the man who had killed Professor McMurray;
yet you proceed to build up a fantastical case against this poor devil."

"But--" began the inspector. He was interrupted by the door being burst
violently open and Sir John Dene shot into the room.

For a moment he stood staring at the two men, Gladys Norman and William
Johnson framed in the doorway behind him.

"Sir Jasper's killed himself," he cried.

"Moses' aunt!" cried the inspector, starting to his feet.

Malcolm Sage sat immovable at his table, his eyes upon his outstretched
hands. Slowly looking up he motioned to Miss Norman to close the door,
then nodded towards a chair into which Sir John Dene sank. The inspector
resumed his own seat. It was obvious that the news had considerably
shaken him.

"You knew?" Sir John Dene interrogated, his voice a little unsteady.

"I expected it," said Malcolm Sage quietly.

"But how, Mr. Sage?" enquired Inspector Carfon in a whisper, his throat
dry with excitement.

"Because I wrote to him yesterday saying that I could not allow the
condemned man to be sacrificed. It was Sir Jasper Chambers who killed
Professor McMurray."

For a moment Inspector Carton's eyes looked as if they would start out
of his head. He turned and looked at Sir John Dene, who with unsteady
hand was taking a cheroot from his case. Malcolm Sage drew his pipe from
his pocket and proceeded to fill it. "On the Tuesday night," he began,
"it is obvious that Professor McMurray admitted some one to the
laboratory. That man was Sir Jasper Chambers.

"When the two had dined together a week before," proceeded Malcolm Sage,
"an appointment was obviously made for a week later. The professor's
last words were significant: 'Anyway, Chambers, you will be the first to
know.' If the experiments had proved fatal, how could Sir Jasper be the
first to know unless an appointment had been made for him to call at the
laboratory and discover for himself the result?"

The inspector coughed noisily.

"'When Sir Jasper learned of the unqualified success of the experiments,
and saw by the professor's changed appearance proof of his triumph, he
remembered the article in The Present Century. He realised that in the
lengthening of human life a terrible catastrophe threatened the world.
Humanitarianism triumphed over his affection for his friend, and he
killed him."

Sir John Dene nodded his head in agreement. The inspector was leaning
forward, his arms on the table, staring at Malcolm Sage with glassy
eyes.

"The assailant was clearly a tall, powerful man and left-handed. That
was shown by the nature of the blow. That he had some knowledge of
physiology is obvious from the fact that he made no attempt at a second
blow to ensure death, as a layman most likely would have done. He knew
that he had smashed the occipital bone right into the brain. In his
early years Sir Jasper studied medicine.

"The crime committed, Sir Jasper proceeded to cover his tracks. With the
poker he loosened the sockets of the bolts and that of the lock in order
to give an impression that the door had been burst open from without. He
then left the place and, to suggest robbery as a motive for the crime,
he took with him the professor's gold watch, which he threw away. This
was found a few hours later by the tramp whom you, Carfon, want to hang
for a crime of which he knows nothing." There was a note of sternness in
Malcolm Sage's voice.

"But--" began the inspector.

"I suspect," continued Malcolm Sage, "that after he had left the
laboratory. Sir Jasper suddenly realised that the professor had probably
recorded in his book all his processes. He returned, discovered the
manuscript, and was for hours absorbed in it, at first smoking
continuously, later too interested in his task to think of his pipe. It
must be remembered that he had studied medicine."

The inspector glanced across at Sir John Dene, who sat rigidly in his
chair, his eyes fixed upon Malcolm Sage.

"I rather think that he was aroused from his preoccupation by the
ringing of the bell announcing the arrival of the professor's breakfast.
He then realised that he could not leave the place until nightfall. He
therefore ate that meal, carefully avoiding the marmalade, which he
disliked, and subsequently he consumed the luncheon, and dinner, passed
through the wicket."

Malcolm Sage paused to press down the tobacco in his pipe.

"He burned the manuscript, tearing up letters and throwing them into the
waste-paper basket to give the appearance of Professor McMurray having
had a clearing-up. He then destroyed all the test tubes he could find.
Finally he left the laboratory late on the Wednesday night, or early
Thursday morning."

"But how did you find out all this?" It was Sir John Dene who spoke.

"First of all. Sir Jasper and the murderer smoke the same tobacco,
'Ormonde Mixture.' I verified that by picking Inspector Carfon's
pocket." Taking a tobacco-pouch from a drawer, Malcolm Sage handed it
across the table. "You will remember Sir Jasper lent me his pouch. I had
picked up some tobacco on the floor and on the hearth. Secondly, the
murderer was left-handed, and so is Sir Jasper. Thirdly, the murderer
does not eat marmalade and Jasper had the same distaste."

"But how--?" began the inspector.

"I telephoned to his housekeeper in the name of a local grocer and asked
if it would be Sir Jasper who had ordered some marmalade, as an
assistant could not remember the gentleman's name. That grocer, I
suspect, got into trouble, as the housekeeper seemed to expect him to
know that Sir Jasper disliked marmalade.

"Well, you seem to have got the thing pretty well figured out," remarked
Sir John Dene grimly.

"Another man's life and liberty were at stake," was the calm reply,
"otherwise--" he shrugged his shoulders.

"As Sir Jasper did not come forward I wrote to him yesterday giving him
until noon to-day to make a statement," continued Malcolm Sage,
"otherwise I should have to take steps to save the man condemned."

Then after a short pause he continued: "In Sir Jasper Chambers you have
an illustration of the smallness of a great mind. He has devoted his
vast wealth to philanthropy; yet he was willing to allow another man to
be hanged for his crime."

"And this, I take it," said Sir John Dene, "is his reply," and he handed
a letter across to Malcolm Sage.

"Read it out," he said.

Malcolm Sage glanced swiftly through the pages and then read:

'MY DEAR DENE,

By the time you receive this letter I shall be dead. I have just
received a letter from Mr. Malcolm Sage, which shows him to be a man of
remarkable perception, and possessed of powers of analysis and deduction
that I venture to think must be unique. All he says is correct, but for
one detail. I left the laboratory in the first instance with the
deliberate intention of returning, although I did not realise the
significance of the manuscript until after I had tampered with the
fastenings of the doors. Had my servants found that my bed had not been
slept in, suspicion might have attached itself to me. I therefore
returned to remedy this, and I left a note to say that I had gone out
early for a long walk, a thing I frequently do.

In his experiments McMurray had succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings,
and I foresaw the horrors that must inevitably follow such a discovery
as his. I had to choose between myself and the welfare of the race, and
I chose the race.

I did not come forward to save the man condemned for the crime, as I
regarded my life of more value to the community than his.

Will you thank Mr. Sage for the very gentle and humane way in which he
has written calling upon me to see that justice be not outraged.

I am sending this letter by hand. My body will be found in my study. I
have used morphia as a means of satisfying justice.

Very sincerely yours,

JASPER CHAMBERS.'

"It was strange I should have made that mistake about the reason for his
leaving the laboratory," said Malcolm Sage meditatively. "I made two
mistakes, one I corrected; but the other was unpardonable."

And he knocked the ashes from his pipe on to the copper tray before him
with the air of a man who is far from satisfied.

"And I might have arrested an O.M.," murmured Inspector Carfon, as he
walked down Whitehall. "Damn!"

CHAPTER XIII

THE GYLSTON SLANDER

"IT'S all very well for the Chief to sit in there like a five-guinea
palmist," Gladys Norman cried one morning, as after interviewing the
umpteenth caller that day she proceeded vigorously to powder her nose,
to the obvious interest of William Johnson; "but what about me? If
anyone else comes I must speak the truth. I haven't an unused lie left."

"Then you had better let Johnson have a turn," said a quiet voice behind
her.

She spun round, with flaming cheeks and white-flecked nose to see the
steel grey eyes of Malcolm Sage gazing on her quizzically through
gold-rimmed spectacles. There was only the slightest fluttering at the
corners of his mouth.

As his activities enlarged, Malcolm Sage's fame had increased, and he
was overwhelmed with requests for assistance. Clients bore down upon him
from all parts of the country; some even crossing the Channel, whilst
from America and the Colonies came a flood of letters giving long,
rambling details of mysteries, murders and disappearances, all of which
he was expected to solve.

Those who wrote, however, were as nothing to those who called. They
arrived in various stages of excitement and agitation, only to be met by
Miss Gladys Norman with a stereotyped smile and the equally stereotyped
information that Mr. Malcolm Sage saw no one except by appointment,
which was never made until the nature of the would-be client's business
had been stated in writing.

The Surrey cattle-maiming affair, and the consequent publicity it gave
to the name of Malcolm Sage, had resulted in something like a siege of
the Bureau's offices.

"I told you so," said Lady Dene gaily to her husband, and he had nodded
his head in entire agreement.

Malcolm Sage's success was largely due to the very quality that had
rendered him a failure as a civil servant, the elasticity of his mind.

He approached each problem entirely unprejudiced, weighed the evidence,
and followed the course it indicated, prepared at any moment to retrace
his steps, should they lead to a cul-de-sac.

He admitted the importance of the Roman judicial interrogation, "cui
bono?" (whom benefits it?); yet he realised that there was always the
danger of confusing the pathological with the criminal.

"The obvious is the correct solution of most mysteries," he had once
remarked to Sir James Walton; but there is always the possibility of
exception.

The Surrey cattle-maiming mystery had been a case in point. Even more so
was the affair that came to be known as "The Gylston Slander." In this
case Malcolm Sage arrived at the truth by a refusal to accept what, on
the face of it, appeared to be the obvious solution.

It was through Robert Freynes, the eminent K.C., that he first became
interested in the series of anonymous letters that had created
considerable scandal in the little village of Gylston.

Tucked away in the north-west corner of Hampshire, Gylston was a village
of some eight hundred inhabitants. The vicar, the Rev. John Crayne, had
held the living for some twenty years. Aided by his wife and daughter,
Muriel, a pretty and high-spirited girl of nineteen, he devoted himself
to the parish, and in return enjoyed great popularity.

Life at the vicarage was an ideal of domestic happiness. Mr. and Mrs.
Crayne were devoted to each other and to their daughter, and she to
them. Muriel Crayne had grown up among the villagers, devoting herself
to parish work as soon as she was old enough to do so. She seemed to
find her life sufficient for her needs, and many were the comparisons
drawn by other parents in Gylston between the vicar's daughter and their
own restless offspring.

A year previously a new curate had arrived in the person of the Rev.
Charles Blade. His frank, straightforward personality, coupled with his
good looks and masculine bearing had caused him to be greatly liked, not
only by the vicar and his family, but by all the parishioners.

Suddenly and without warning the peace of the village was destroyed. One
morning Mr. Crayne received by post an anonymous letter, in which the
names of his daughter and the curate were linked together in a way that
caused him both pain and anxiety.

A man with a strong sense of honour himself, he cordially despised the
anonymous letter-writer, and his first instinct had been to ignore that
which he had just received. On second thoughts, however, he reasoned
that the writer would be unlikely to rest content with a single letter;
but would, in all probability, make the same calumnious statements to
others.

After consulting with his wife, he had reluctantly questioned his
daughter. At first she was inclined to treat the matter lightly; but on
the grave nature of the accusations being pointed out to her, she had
become greatly embarrassed and assured him that the curate had never
been more than ordinarily attentive to her.

The vicar decided to allow the matter to rest there, and accordingly he
made no mention of the letter to Blade.

A week later his daughter brought him a letter she had found lying in
the vicarage grounds. It contained a passionate declaration of love, and
ended with a threat of what might happen if the writer's passion were
not reciprocated.

Although the letter was unsigned, the vicar could not disguise from
himself the fact that there was a marked similarity between the
handwriting of the two anonymous letters and that of his curate. He
decided, therefore, to ask Blade if he could throw any light on the
matter.

At first the young man had appeared bewildered; then he had pledged his
word of honour, not only that he had not written the letters, but that
there was no truth in the statements they contained. With that the vicar
had to rest content; but worse was to follow.

Two evenings later, one of the churchwardens called at the vicarage and,
after behaving in what to the vicar seemed a very strange manner, he
produced from his pocket a letter he had received that morning, in which
were repeated the scandalous statements contained in the first epistle.

From then on the district was deluged with anonymous letters, all
referring to the alleged passion of the curate for the vicar's daughter,
and the intrigue they were carrying on together. Some of the letters
were frankly indelicate in their expression and, as the whole parish
seethed with the scandal, the vicar appealed to the police for aid.

One peculiarity of the letters was that all were written upon the same
paper, known as "Olympic Script." This was supplied locally to a number
of people in the neighbourhood, among others, the vicar, the curate, and
the schoolmaster.

Soon the story began to find its way into the newspapers, and Blade's
position became one full of difficulty and embarrassment. He had
consulted Robert Freynes, who had been at Oxford with his father, and
the K.C., convinced of the young man's innocence, had sought Malcolm
Sage's aid.

"You see, Sage," Freynes had remarked, "I'm sure the boy is straight and
incapable of such conduct; but it's impossible to talk to that ass
Murdy. He has no more imagination than a tin-linnet."

Freynes's reference was to Chief Inspector Murdy, of Scotland Yard, who
had been entrusted with the enquiry, the local police having proved
unequal to the problem.

Although Malcolm Sage had promised Robert Freynes that he would
undertake the enquiry into the Gylston scandal, it was not until nearly
a week later that he found himself at liberty to motor down into
Hampshire.

One afternoon the vicar of Gylston, on entering his church, found a
stranger on his knees in the chancel. Note-book in hand, he was
transcribing the inscription of a monumental brass.

As the vicar approached, he observed that the stranger was vigorously
shaking a fountain pen, from which the ink had evidently been exhausted.

At the sound of Mr. Crayne's footsteps the stranger looked up, turning
towards him a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles above which a bald conical
head seemed to contradict the keenness of the eyes and the youthful
lines of the face beneath

"You are interested in monumental brasses?" enquired the vicar, as he
entered the chancel, and the stranger rose to his feet. "I am the
vicar," he explained. There was a look of eager interest in the pale
grey eyes that looked out from a placid, scholarly face.

"I was taking the liberty of copying the inscription on this," replied
Malcolm Sage, indicating the time-worn brass at his feet, "only
unfortunately my fountain pen has given out."

"There is pen and ink in the vestry," said the vicar, impressed by the
fact that the stranger had chosen the finest brass in the church, one
that had been saved from Cromwell's Puritans by the ingenuity of the
then incumbent, who had caused it to be covered with cement. Then as an
afterthought the vicar added, "I can get your pen filled at the
vicarage. My daughter has some ink; she always uses a fountain pen."

Malcolm Sage thanked him, and for the next half-hour the vicar forgot
the worries of the past few weeks in listening to a man who seemed to
have the whole subject of monumental brasses and Norman architecture at
his finger-ends.

Subsequently Malcolm Sage was invited to the vicarage, where another
half-hour was occupied in Mr. Crayne showing him his collection of books
on brasses.

As Malcolm Sage made a movement to depart, the vicar suddenly remembered
the matter of the ink, apologised for his remissness, and left the room,
returning a few minutes later with a bottle of fountain-pen ink. Malcolm
Sage drew from his pocket his pen, and proceeded to replenish the ink
from the bottle. Finally he completed the transcription of the lettering
of the brass from a rubbing produced by the vicar.

Reluctant to allow so interesting a visitor to depart, Mr. Crayne
pressed him to take tea; but Malcolm Sage pleaded an engagement.

As they crossed the hall, a fair girl suddenly rushed out from a door on
the right. She was crying hysterically. Her hair was disordered, her
deep violet eyes rimmed with red, and her moist lips seemed to stand out
strangely red against the alabaster paleness of her skin.

"Muriel!"

Malcolm Sage glanced swiftly at the vicar. The look of scholarly calm
had vanished from his features, giving place to a set sternness that
reflected the tone in which he had uttered his daughter's name.

At the sight of a stranger the girl had paused, then, as if realising
her tear-stained face and disordered hair, she turned and disappeared
through the door from which she had rushed.

"My daughter," murmured the vicar, a little sadly, Malcolm Sage thought.
"She has always been very highly strung and emotional," he added, as if
considering some explanation necessary. "We have to be very stern with
her on such occasions. It is the only way to repress it."

"You find it answers?" remarked Malcolm Sage.

"She has been much better lately, although she has been sorely tried.
Perhaps you have heard."

Malcolm Sage nodded absently, as he gazed intently at the thumb-nail of
his right hand. A minute later he was walking down the drive, his
thoughts occupied with the pretty daughter of the vicar of Gylston.

At the curate's lodgings he was told that Mr. Blade was away, and would
not return until late that night.

As he turned from the gate, Malcolm Sage encountered a pale-faced,
narrow-shouldered man with a dark moustache and a hard, peevish mouth.

To Malcolm Sage's question as to which was the way to the inn, he nodded
in the direction from which he had come and continued on his way.

"A man who has failed in what he set out to accomplish," was Malcolm
Sage's mental diagnosis of John Gray, the Gylston schoolmaster.

It was not long before Malcolm Sage realised that the village of Gylston
was intensely proud of itself. It had seen in the London papers accounts
of the mysterious scandal of which it was the centre. A Scotland Yard
officer had been down, and had subjected many of the inhabitants to a
careful cross-examination. In consequence Gylston realised that it was a
village to be reckoned with.

The Tired Traveller was the centre of all rumour and gossip. Here each
night in the public-bar, or in the private-parlour, according to their
social status, the inhabitants would forgather and discuss the problem
of the mysterious letters. Every sort of theory was advanced, and every
sort of explanation offered. Whilst popular opinion tended to the view
that the curate was the guilty party, there were some who darkly shook
their heads and muttered, "We shall see."

It was remembered and discussed with relish that John Gray, the
schoolmaster, had for some time past shown a marked admiration for the
vicar's daughter. She, however, had made it clear that the cadaverous,
saturnine pedagogue possessed for her no attractions.

During the half-hour that Malcolm Sage spent at The Tired Traveller,
eating a hurried meal, he heard all there was to be heard about local
opinion.

The landlord, a rubicund old fellow whose baldness extended to his
eyelids, was bursting with information. By nature capable of making a
mystery out of a sunbeam, he revelled in the scandal that hummed around
him.

After a quarter of an hour's conversation, the landlord's conversation,
Malcolm Sage found himself possessed of a bewildering amount of new
material.

"A young gal don't have them highsterics for nothin'," mine host
remarked darkly. "Has fits of 'em every now and then ever since she was
a flapper, sobbin' and cryin' fit to break 'er heart, and the vicar that
cross with her."

"That is considered the best way to treat hysterical people." remarked
Malcolm Sage.

"Maybe," was the reply, "but she's only a gal, and a pretty one too," he
added inconsequently.

"Then there's the schoolmaster," he continued, "'ates the curate like
poison, he does. Shouldn't be surprised if it was him that done it. 'E's
always been a bit sweet in that quarter himself, has Mr. Gray. Got
talked about a good deal one time, 'angin' about arter Miss Muriel,"
added the loquacious publican.

By the time Malcolm Sage had finished his meal, the landlord was well in
his stride of scandalous reminiscence. It was with obvious reluctance
that he allowed so admirable a listener to depart, and it was with
manifest regret that he watched Malcolm Sage's car disappear round the
curve in the road.

A little way beyond the vicarage, an admonitory triangle caused Tims to
slow up. Just by the bend Malcolm Sage observed a youth and a girl
standing in the recess of a gate giving access to a meadow. Although
they were in the shadow cast by the hedge, Malcolm Sage's quick eyes
recognised in the girl the vicar's daughter. The youth looked as if he
might be one of the lads of the village.

In the short space of two or three seconds Malcolm Sage noticed the
change in the girl. Although he could not see her face very clearly, the
vivacity of her bearing and the ready laugh were suggestive of a gaiety
contrasting strangely with the tragic figure he had seen in the
afternoon.

Muriel Crayne was obviously of a very mercurial temperament, he decided,
as the car swung round the bend.

The next morning, in response to a telephone message, Inspector Murdy
called on Malcolm Sage.

"Well, Mr. Sage," he cried, as he shook hands, "going to have another
try to teach us our job," and his blue eye twinkled good-humouredly.

The inspector had already made up his mind. He was a man with many
successes to his record, achieved as a result of undoubted astuteness in
connection with the grosser crimes, such as train-murders, post-office
hold-ups and burglaries. He was incapable, however, of realising that
there existed a subtler form of law-breaking, arising from something
more intimately associated with the psychic than the material plane.

"Did you see Mr. Blade?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"Saw the whole blessed lot," was the cheery reply. "It's all as clear as
milk," and he laughed.

"What did Mr. Blade say?" enquired Malcolm Sage, looking keenly across
at the inspector.

"Just that he had nothing to say."

"His exact words. Can you remember them?" queried Malcolm Sage.

"Oh, yes!" replied the inspector. "He said, 'Inspector Murdy, I have
nothing to say,' and then he shut up like a real Whitstable."

"He was away yesterday," remarked Malcolm Sage, who then told the
inspector of his visit. "How about John Gray, the schoolmaster?" he
queried.

"He practically told me to go to the devil," was the genial reply.
Inspector Murdy was accustomed to rudeness; his profession invited it,
and to his rough-and-ready form of reasoning, rudeness meant innocence;
politeness guilt.

He handed to Malcolm Sage a copy of a list of people who purchased
"Olympic Script" from Mr. Grainger, the local Whiteley, volunteering the
information that the curate was the biggest consumer, as if that settled
the question of his guilt.

"And yet the vicar would not hear of the arrest of Blade." murmured
Malcolm Sage, turning the copper ash-tray round with his restless
fingers.

The inspector shrugged his massive shoulders. "Sheer good nature and
kindliness, Mr. Sage," he said "'He's as gentle as a woman."

"I once knew a man," remarked Malcolm Sage, "who said that in the annals
of crime lay the master-key to the world's mysteries, past, present and
to come."

"A dreamer, Mr. Sage," smiled the inspector. "We haven't time for
dreaming at the Yard," he added good-temperedly, as he rose and shook
himself like a Newfoundland dog.

"I suppose it never struck you to look elsewhere than at the curate's
lodgings for the writer of the letters?" enquired Malcolm Sage quietly.

"It never strikes me to look about for someone when I'm sitting on his
chest," laughed Inspector Murdy.

"True," said Malcolm Sage. "By the way," he continued, without looking
up, "in future can you let me see every letter as it is received? You
might also keep careful record of how they are delivered."

"Certainly, Mr. Sage. Anything that will make you happy."

"Later I may get you to ask the vicar to seal up any subsequent
anonymous letters that reach him without allowing anyone to see the
contents. Do you think he would do that?"

"Without doubt if I ask him," said the inspector, surprise in his eyes
as he looked down upon the cone of baldness beneath him, realising what
a handicap it is to talk to a man who keeps his eyes averted.

"He must then put the letters in a place where no one can possibly
obtain access to them. One thing more," continued Malcolm Sage, "will
you ask Miss Crayne to write out the full story of the letters as far as
she personally is acquainted with it?"

"Very well, Mr. Sage," said the inspector, with the air or one humouring
a child. "Now I'll be going." He walked towards the door, then suddenly
stopped and turned. "I suppose you think I'm wrong about the curate?"

"I'll tell you later," was the reply.

"When you find the master-key?" laughed the inspector, as he opened the
door.

"Yes, when I find the master-key," said Malcolm Sage quietly and, as the
door closed behind Inspector Murdy, he continued to finger the copper
ash-tray as if that were the master-key.

CHAPTER XIV

MALCOLM SAGE PLAYS PATIENCE

MALCOLM SAGE was seated at a small green-covered table playing
solitaire. A velvet smoking-jacket and a pair of wine-coloured morocco
slippers suggested that the day's work was done.

Patience, chess, and the cinema were his unfailing sources of
inspiration when engaged upon a more than usually difficult case. He had
once told Sir James Walton that they clarified his brain and
co-ordinated his thoughts, the cinema in particular. The fact that in
the surrounding darkness were hundreds of other brains, vital and
active, appeared to stimulate his own imagination.

Puffing steadily at a gigantic meerschaum, he moved the cards with a
deliberation which suggested that his attention rather than his thoughts
was absorbed in the game.

Nearly a month had elapsed since he had agreed to take up the enquiry
into the authorship of the series of anonymous letters with which
Gylston and the neighbourhood had been flooded; yet still the matter
remained a mystery.

A celebrated writer of detective stories had interested himself in the
affair, with the result that the Press throughout the country had
"stunted" Gylston as if it had been a heavyweight championship, or a
train murder.

For a fortnight Malcolm Sage had been on the Continent in connection
with the theft of the Adair Diamonds. Two days previously, after having
restored the famous jewels to Lady Adair, he had returned to London, to
find that the Gylston affair had developed a new and dramatic phase. The
curate had been arrested for an attempted assault upon Miss Crayne and,
pleading "not guilty," had been committed for trial.

The incident that led up to this had taken place on the day that Malcolm
Sage left London. Late that afternoon Miss Crayne had arrived at the
vicarage in a state bordering collapse. On becoming more collected, she
stated that on returning from paying a call, and when half-way through a
copse, known locally as "Gipsies Wood," Blade had sprung out upon her
and violently protested his passion. He had gripped hold of her wrists,
the mark of his fingers was to be seen on the delicate skin, and
threatened to kill her and himself. She had been terrified, thinking he
meant to kill her. The approach of a farm labourer had saved her, and
the curate had disappeared through the copse.

This story was borne out by Joseph Higgins, the farm labourer in
question. He had arrived to find Miss Crayne in a state of great alarm
and agitation, and he had walked with her as far as the vicarage gate.
He did not, however, actually see the curate.

On the strength of this statement the police had applied for a warrant,
and had subsequently arrested the curate. Later he appeared before the
magistrates, had been remanded, and finally committed for trial, bail
being allowed.

Blade protested his innocence alike of the assault and the writing of
the letters; but two handwriting experts had testified to the similarity
of the handwriting of the anonymous letters with that of the curate.
Furthermore, they were all written upon "Olympic Script," the paper that
Blade used for his sermons.

Malcolm Sage had just started a new deal when the door opened, and
Rogers showed in Robert Freynes. With a nod, Malcolm Sage indicated the
chair opposite. His visitor dropped into it and, taking a pipe from his
pocket, proceeded to fill and light it.

Placing his meerschaum on the mantelpiece, Malcolm Sage produced a
well-worn briar from his pocket, which, having got into commission, he
proceeded once more with the game.

"It's looking pretty ugly for Blade," remarked Freynes, recognising by
the substitution of the briar for the meerschaum that Malcolm Sage was
ready for conversation.

"Tell me."

"It's those damned handwriting experts," growled Freynes. "They're the
greatest anomaly of our legal system. The judge always warns the jury of
the danger of accepting their evidence; yet each side continues to
produce them. It's an insult to intelligence and justice."

"To hang a man because his 's' resembles that of an implicating
document," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he placed a red queen on a black
knave, "is about as sensible as to imprison him because he has the same
accent as a footpad."

"Then there's Blade's astonishing apathy," continued Freynes. "He seems
quite indifferent to the gravity of his position. Refuses to say a word.
Anyone might think he knew the real culprit and was trying to shield
him," and he sucked moodily at his pipe.

"The handwriting expert," continued Malcolm Sage imperturbably, "is too
concerned with the crossing of a 't,' the dotting of an 'i,' or the tail
of a 'g' to give time and thought to the way in which the writer uses,
for instance, the compound tenses of verbs. Blade was no more capable of
writing those letters than our friend Murdy is of transliterating the
Rosetta Stone."

"Yes; but can we prove it?" asked Freynes gloomily, as with the blade of
a penknife he loosened the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe. "Can we
prove it?" he repeated and, snapping the knife to, he replaced it in his
pocket.

"Blade's sermons," Malcolm Sage continued, "and such letters of his as
you have been able to collect, show that he adopted a very definite and
precise system of punctuation. He frequently uses the colon and the
semicolon, and always in the right place. In a parenthetical clause
preceded by the conjunction 'and,' he uses a comma after the 'and,' not
before it as most people do. Before such words as 'yet' and 'but,' he
without exception uses a semicolon. The word 'only,' he always puts in
its correct place. In short, he is so academic as to savour somewhat of
the pomposity of the eighteenth century."

"Go on," said Freynes, as Malcolm Sage paused, as if to give the other a
chance of questioning his reasoning.

"Turning to the anonymous letters," continued Malcolm Sage, "it must be
admitted that the handwriting is very similar; but there all likeness to
Blade's sermons and correspondence ends. Murdy has shown me nearly all
the anonymous letters, and in the whole series there is not one instance
of the colon or the semicolon being used. The punctuation is of the
vaguest, consisting largely of the dash, which after all is a literary
evasion.

"In these letters the word 'but' frequently appears without any
punctuation mark before it. At other times it has comma, a dash, or a
full stop."

He paused and for the next two minutes devoted himself to the game
before him. Then he continued: "Such phrases as 'If only you knew,' 'I
should have loved to have been,' 'different than,' which appear in these
letters! would have been absolutely impossible to a man of Blade's
literary temperament."

At Malcolm Sage spoke, Robert Freynes's brain had been working rapidly.
Presently he brought his hand down with a smack upon his knee.

"By heavens, Sage!" he cried, "this is a new pill for the handwriting
expert. I'll put you in the box. We've got a fighting chance after all."

"The most curious factor in the whole case," continued Malcolm Sage, "is
the way in which the letters were delivered. One was thrown into a fly
on to Miss Crayne's lap, she tells us, when she and her father were
driving home after dining at the Hall. Another was discovered in the
vicarage garden. A third was thrown through Miss Crayne's bedroom
window. A few of the earlier group were posted in the neighbouring town
of Whitchurch, some on days that Blade was certainly not there."

"That was going to be one of my strongest points," remarked Freynes.

"The letters always imply that there is some obstacle existing between
the writer and the girl he desires. What possible object could Blade
have in writing letters to various people suggesting an intrigue between
his vicar's daughter and himself; yet these letters were clearly written
by the same hand that addressed those to the girl, her father and her
mother."

Freynes nodded his head comprehendingly.

"If Blade were in love with the girl," continued Malcolm Sage, "what was
there to prevent him from pressing his suit along legitimate and
accepted lines? Murdy frankly acknowledges that there has been nothing
in Blade's outward demeanour to suggest that Miss Crayne was to him
anything more than the daughter of his vicar."

"What do you make of the story of the assault?"

"As evidence it is worthless," replied Malcolm Sage, "being without
corroboration. The farm-hand did not actually see Blade."

Freynes nodded his agreement.

"Having convinced myself that Blade had nothing to do with the writing
of the letters, I next tried to discover if there were anything throwing
suspicion on others in the neighbourhood, who were known to use "Olympic
Script" as note-paper.

"The schoolmaster, John Gray, was one. He is an admirer of Miss Crayne,
according to local gossip; but it was obvious from the first that he had
nothing to do with the affair. One by one I eliminated all the others,
until I came back once more to Blade.

"It was clear that the letters were written with a fountain pen, and
Blade always uses one. That, however, is not evidence, as millions of
people use fountain pens. By the way, what is your line of defence?" he
enquired.

"Smashing the handwriting experts," was the reply. "I was calling four
myself, on the principle that God is on the side of the big battalions;
but now I shall depend entirely on your evidence."

"The assault?" queried Malcolm Sage.

"There I'm done," said Freynes, "for although Miss Crayne's evidence is
not proof, it will be sufficient for a jury. Besides, she's a very
pretty and charming girl. I suppose," he added, "Blade must have made
some sort of declaration, which she, in the light of the anonymous
letters, entirely misunderstood."

"What does he say?"

"Denies it absolutely, although he admits being in the neighbourhood of
the 'Gypsies Wood,' and actually catching sight of Miss Crayne in the
distance; but he says he did not speak to her."

"Is he going into the witness-box?"

"Certainly," then after a pause he added, "Kelton is prosecuting, and
he's as moral as a swan. He'll appeal to the jury as fathers of
daughters, and brothers of sisters."

Malcolm Sage made no comment; but continued smoking mechanically, his
attention apparently absorbed in the cards before him.

"If you can smash the handwriting experts," continued the K.C., "I may
be able to manage the girl's testimony."

"It will not be necessary," said Malcolm Sage, carefully placing a nine
of clubs upon an eight of diamonds.

"Not necessary?"

"I have asked Murdy to come round," continued Malcolm Sage, still intent
upon his game. "I think that was his ring."

A minute later the door opened to admit the burly inspector more
blue-eyed and genial than ever, and obviously in the best of spirits.

"Good evening, Mr. Sage," he cried cheerfully. "Congratulations on the
Adair business. Good evening, sir," he added as he shook hands with
Freynes.

He dropped heavily into a seat, and taking a cigar from the box on the
table, which Malcolm Sage had indicated with a nod, he proceeded to
light it. No man enjoyed a good cigar more than Inspector Murdy.

"Well, what do you think of it?" he enquired, looking from Malcolm Sage
to Freynes. "It's a clear case now, I think." He slightly stressed the
word "now."

"You mean it's Blade?" enquired Malcolm Sage, as he proceeded to gather
up the cards.

"Who else?" enquired the inspector, through a cloud of smoke.

"That is the question which involves your being here now, Murdy," said
Malcolm Sage dryly.

"We've got three handwriting experts behind us," said the inspector
complacently.

"That is precisely where they should be," retorted Malcolm Sage quietly.
"In the biblical sense," he added.

Freynes laughed, whilst Inspector Murdy looked from one to the other. He
did not quite catch the allusion.

"You have done as I suggested?" enquired Malcolm Sage, when he had
placed the cards in their box and removed the card-table.

"Here are all the letters received up to a fortnight ago," said the
inspector holding out a bulky packet. "Those received since have each
been sealed up separately by the vicar, who is keeping half of them,
whilst I have the other half; but really, Mr. Sage, I don't
understand--"

"Thank you, Murdy," said Malcolm Sage, as he took the packet. "It is
always a pleasure to work with Scotland Yard. It is so thorough." The
inspector beamed; for he knew the compliment was sincere.

Without a word Malcolm Sage left the room, taking the packet with him.

"A bit quaint at times, ain't he, sir?" remarked Inspector Murdy to
Freynes; "but one of the best. I'd trust him with anything."

Freynes nodded encouragingly.

"There are some of them down at the Yard that don't like him," he
continued. "They call him 'Sage and Onions'; but most of us who have
worked with him swear by Mr. Sage. He's never out of the limelight
himself, and he's always willing to give another fellow a leg up. After
all, it's our living," he added, a little inconsequently.

Freynes appreciated the inspector's delicacy in refraining from any
mention of the Gylston case during Malcolm Sage's absence. After all,
they represented respectively the prosecution and the defence. For
nearly half an hour the two talked together upon unprofessional
subjects. When Malcolm Sage returned, he found them discussing the
prospects of Dempsey against Carpentier.

Handing back the packet of letters to Inspector Murdy, Malcolm Sage
resumed his seat, and proceeded to relight his pipe.

"Spotted the culprit, Mr. Sage?" enquired the inspector, with something
that was very much like a wink in the direction of Freynes.

"I think so," was the quiet reply. "You might meet me at Gylston
Vicarage tomorrow at three. I'll telegraph to Blade to be there too. You
had better bring the schoolmaster also."

"You mean--" began the inspector, rising.

"Exactly," said Malcolm Sage. "It's past eleven, and we all require
sleep."

The next afternoon the study of the vicar of Gylston presented a strange
appearance.

Seated at Mr. Crayne's writing-table was Malcolm Sage, a small
attache case at his side, whilst before him were several piles of sealed
packets. Grouped about the room were Inspector Murdy, Robert Freynes,
Mr. Gray, and the vicar.

All had their eyes fixed upon Malcolm Sage; but with varying
expressions. Those of the schoolmaster were frankly cynical. The
inspector and Freynes looked as if they expected to see produced from
the attache case a guinea pig or a white rabbit, pink-eyed and kicking;
whilst the vicar had obviously not yet recovered from his surprise at
discovering that the stranger, who had shown such a remarkable knowledge
of monumental brasses and Norman architecture, was none other than the
famous investigator about whom he had read so much in the newspapers.

With quiet deliberation Malcolm Sage opened the attache case and
produced a spirit lamp, which he lighted. He then placed a metal plate
upon a rest above the flame. On this he imposed a thicker plate of a
similar metal that looked like steel; but it had a handle across the
middle, rather resembling that of a tool used by plasterers.

He then glanced up, apparently unconscious of the almost feverish
interest with which his every movement was being watched.

"I should like Miss Crayne to be present," he said.

As he spoke the door opened and the curate entered, his dark, handsome
face lined and careworn. It was obvious that he had suffered. He bowed,
and then looked about him without any suggestion of embarrassment.

Malcolm Sage rose and held out his hand. Freynes followed suit.

"Ask Miss Muriel to come here," said the vicar to the maid as she was
closing the door.

The curate took the seat that Malcolm Sage indicated bedside him.
Silently the six men waited.

A few minutes later Miss Crayne entered, pale but self possessed. She
closed the door behind her. Suddenly she caught sight of the curate. Her
eyes widened, and her paleness seemed to become accentuated. A moment
later it was followed by a crimson flush. She hesitated, her hands
clenched at her side, then with a manifest effort she appeared to
control herself, and with a slight smile and inclination of her head,
took the chair the schoolmaster moved towards her. Instinctively she
turned her eyes towards Malcolm Sage.

"Inspector Murdy," he said, without raising his eyes, "will you please
open two of those packets." He indicated the pile on his left. "I should
explain," he continued, "that each of these contains one of the most
recent of the series of letters with which we are concerned. Each was
sealed up by Mr. Frayne immediately it reached him, in accordance with
Inspector Murdy's request. Therefore, only the writer, the recipient and
the vicar have had access to these letters."

Malcolm Sage turned his eyes interrogatingly upon Mr. Crayne, who bowed.

Meanwhile the inspector had cut open the two top envelopes, unfolded the
sheets of paper they contained, and handed them to Malcolm Sage.

All eyes were fixed upon his long, shapely fingers as he smoothed out
one of the sheets of paper upon the vicar's blotting-pad. Then, lifting
the steel plate by the handle, he placed it upon the upturned sheet of
paper.

The tension was almost unendurable. The heavy breathing of Inspector
Murdy seemed like the blowing of a grampus. Mr. Gray glanced across at
him irritably. The vicar coughed slightly, then looked startled that he
had made so much noise. Everyone bent forward, eagerly expecting
something; yet without quite knowing what. Malcolm Sage lifted the metal
plate from the letter. There in the centre of the page, in
bluish-coloured letters, which had not been there when the paper was
smoothed out upon the blotting-pad, appeared the words:

Malcolm Sage, August 15th, 1919. No. 138.

For some moments they all gazed at the paper as if the mysterious blue
letters exercised upon them some hypnotic influence.

"Secret ink!"

It was Robert Freynes who spoke. Accustomed as he was to dramatic
moments, he was conscious of a strange dryness at the back of his
throat, and a consequent huskiness of voice.

His remark seemed to break the spell. Instinctively everyone turned to
him. The significance of the bluish-coloured characters was slowly
dawning upon the inspector; but the others still seemed puzzled to
account for their presence.

Immediately he had lifted the plate from the letter, Malcolm Sage had
drawn a sheet of plain sermon paper from the tray before him. This he
subjected to the same treatment as the letter. When a few seconds later
he exposed it, there in the centre appeared the same words: ' Malcolm
Sage, August 12th, 1919,' but on this sheet the number was 203.

Then the true significance of the two sheets of paper seemed to dawn
upon the onlookers.

Suddenly there was a scream, and Muriel Crayne fell forward on to the
floor.

"Oh! father, father, forgive me!" she cried, and the next moment she was
beating the floor with her hands in violent hysterics.

* * * * * 

"From the first I suspected the truth," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he,
Robert Freynes and Inspector Murdy sat smoking in the car that Tims was
taking back to London at its best pace. "Eighty-five years ago a
somewhat similar case occurred in France, that of Marie de Morel, when
an innocent man was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, and actually
served eight before the truth was discovered."

The inspector whistled under his breath.

"This suspicion was strengthened by the lengthy account of the affair
written by Miss Crayne, which Murdy obtained from her. The punctuation,
the phrasing, the inaccurate use of auxiliary verbs, were identical with
that of the anonymous letters.

"Another point was that the similarity of the handwriting of the
anonymous letters to Blade's became more pronounced as the letters
themselves multiplied. The writer was becoming more expert as an
imitator."

Freynes nodded his head several times.

"The difficulty, however, was to prove it," continued Malcolm Sage.
"There was only one way; to substitute secretly marked paper for that in
use at the vicarage.

"I accordingly went down to Gylston, and the vicar found me keenly
interested in monumental brasses, his pet subject, and Norman
architecture. He invited me to the vicarage. In is absence from his
study I substituted a supply of marked Olympic Script in place of that
in his letter-rack, and also in the drawer of his writing-table. As a
further precaution, I arranged for my fountain pen to run out of ink. He
kindly supplied me with a bottle, obviously belonging to his daughter. I
replenished my pen, which was full of a chemical that would enable me,
if necessary, to identify any letter in the writing of which it had been
used. When I placed my pen, which is a self-filler, in the ink, I forced
this liquid into the bottle." The inspector merely stared. Words had
forsaken him for the moment.

"It was then necessary to wait until the ink in Miss Crayne's pen had
become exhausted, and she had to replenish her supply of paper from her
father's study. After that discovery was inevitable."

"But suppose she had denied it?" questioned the inspector.

"There was the ink which she alone used, and which I could identify,"
was the reply.

"Why did you ask Gray to be present?" enquired Freynes.

"As his name had been associated with the scandal it seemed only fair,"
remarked Malcolm Sage, then turning to Inspector Murdy he said, "I shall
leave it to you, Murdy, to see that a proper confession is obtained. The
case has had such publicity that Mr. Blade's innocence must be made
equally public."

"You may trust me, Mr. Sage," said the inspector. "But why did the
curate refuse to say anything?"

"Because he is a high-minded and chivalrous gentleman," was the quiet
reply.

"He knew?" cried Freynes.

"Obviously," said Malcolm Sage. "It is the only explanation of his
silence. I taxed him with it after the girl had been taken away, and he
acknowledged that his suspicions amounted almost to certainty."

"Yet he stayed behind," murmured the inspector with the air of a man who
does not understand. "I wonder why?"

"To minister to the afflicted, Murdy," said Malcolm Sage. "That is the
mission of the Church."

"I suppose you meant that French case when you referred to the
'master-key,'" remarked the inspector, as if to change the subject.

Malcolm Sage nodded.

"But how do you account for Miss Crayne writing such letters about
herself?" enquired the inspector, with a puzzled expression in his eyes.
"Pretty funny letters some of them for a parson's daughter."

"I'm not a pathologist, Murdy," remarked Malcolm Sage dryly, "but when
you try to suppress hysteria in a young girl by sternness, it's about as
effectual as putting ointment on a plague-spot."

"Sex-repression?" queried Freynes.

Malcolm Sage shrugged his shoulders; then after a pause during which he
lighted the pipe he had just refilled, he added:

"When you are next in Great Russell Street, drop in at the British
Museum and look at the bust of Faustina. You will see that her chin is
similar in modelling to that of Miss Crayne. The girl was apparently
very much attracted to Blade, and proceeded to weave what was no doubt
to her a romance, later it became an obsession. It all goes to show the
necessity for pathological consideration of certain crimes."

"But who was Faustina?" enquired the inspector, unable to follow the
drift of the conversation.

"Faustina," remarked Malcolm Sage, "was the domestic fly in the
philosophical ointment of an emperor," and Inspector Murdy laughed; for,
knowing nothing of the marriage or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,
it seemed to him the only thing to do.

CHAPTER XV

THE MISSING HEAVYWEIGHT

MR. DOULTON, sir. Very important." Rogers had carefully assimilated his
master's theory of the economy of words, sometimes even to the point of
obscuring his meaning.

Taking the last piece of toast from the rack, Malcolm Sage with great
deliberation proceeded to butter it. Then, with a nod to the waiting
Rogers, he poured out the last cup of coffee the pot contained.

A moment later the door opened to admit a clean-shaven little man of
about fifty, prosperous in build and appearance; but obviously labouring
under some great excitement. His breath came in short, spasmodic gasps.
His thin sandy hair had clearly not been brushed since the day before,
whilst his chin and upper lip bore obvious traces of a night's growth of
beard. He seemed on the point of collapse.

"He's gone--disappeared!" he burst out, as Rogers closed the door behind
him. Malcolm Sage rose, motioned his caller to a chair at the table, and
resumed his own seat.

"Had breakfast?" he enquired quietly, resuming his occupation of getting
the toast carefully and artistically buttered.

"Good God, man!" exploded Mr. Doulton, almost hysterically. "Don't you
understand? Burns has disappeared!"

"I gathered as much," said Malcolm Sage calmly, as he reached for the
marmalade.

"Pond telephoned from Stainton," continued Mr. Doulton. "I was in bed. I
got dressed, and came round here at once. I--" he stopped suddenly, as
Rogers entered with a fresh relay of coffee. Without a word he proceeded
to pour out a cup for Mr. Doulton, who, after a moment's hesitation,
drank it greedily.

Rogers glanced interrogatingly from the dish that had contained eggs and
bacon to Malcolm Sage, who nodded.

When he had withdrawn, Mr. Doulton opened his mouth to speak, then
closed it again and gazed at Malcolm Sage, who, having superimposed upon
the butter a delicate amber film of marmalade, proceeded to cut up the
toast into a series of triangles. Apparently it was the only thing in
life that interested him.

For weeks past the British and American sporting world had thought and
talked of nothing but the forthcoming fight between Charley Burns and
Bob Jefferson for the heavyweight championship of the world. The event
was due to take place two days hence at the Olympia for a purse of
40,000 offered by Mr. Montague Doulton, the prince of impresarios.

Never had a contest been looked forward to with greater eagerness than
the Burns v. Jefferson match. A great change had come over public
opinion in regard to prize-fighting, thanks to the elevating influence
of Mr. Doulton. It was no longer referred to as "brutalising" and
"debasing." Refined and nice-minded people found themselves mildly
interested and patriotically hopeful that Charley Burns, the British
champion, would win. In two years Mr. Doulton had achieved what the
National Sporting Club had failed to do in a quarter of a century.

Long and patiently he had laboured to bring about this match, which many
thought would prove the keystone to the arch of Burns's fame,
incidentally to that of the impresario himself.

"And now he's disappeared--clean gone." Mr. Doulton almost sobbed.

"Tell me."

Malcolm Sage looked up from his plate, the last triangle of toast poised
between finger and thumb.

In short staccatoed sentences, like bursts from a machine-gun, Mr.
Doulton proceeded to tell his story.

That morning at six o'clock, when Alf Pond, Burns's trainer, had entered
his room to warn him that it was time to get up, he found it unoccupied.
At first he thought that Burns had gone down before him; but immediately
his eye fell on the bed, and he saw that it had not been slept in, he
became alarmed.

Going to the bedroom door, he had shouted to the sparring partners, and
soon the champion's room was filled with men in various stages of
deshabille.

Only for a moment, however, had they remained inactive. At Alf Pond's
word of command they had spread helter-skelter over the house and
grounds, causing the early morning air to echo with their shouts for
"Charley."

When at length he became assured that Burns had disappeared, Alf Pond
telephoned first to Mr. Doulton and then to Mr. Papwith, Burns's backer.

"I told Pond to do nothing and tell no one," said Mr. Doulton, in
conclusion, "and when I left my rooms my man was trying to get through
to Papwith to ask him to keep the story to himself."

Malcolm Sage nodded approval.

"Now, what's to be done?" He looked at Malcolm Sage with the air of a
man who has just told a doctor of his alarming symptoms, and almost
breathlessly awaits the verdict.

"Breakfast, a shave, then we'll motor down to Stainton," and Malcolm
Sage proceeded to fill his briar, his whole attention absorbed in the
operation.

A moment later Rogers entered with a fresh supply of eggs and bacon. Mr.
Doulton shook his head. Instinctively his hand had gone up to his
unshaven chin. It was probably the first time in his life that he had
sat at table without shaving. He prided himself upon his personal
appearance. In his younger days he had been known as "Dandy Doulton."

"The car in half an hour, Rogers," said Malcolm Sage, as he rose from
the table. "When you've finished," he said, turning to Mr. Doulton,
"Rogers will give you hot water, a razor and anything else you want. By
the time you have shaved I shall be ready."

"But don't you see--Think what it--" began Mr. Doulton.

"An empty stomach neither sees nor thinks," was Malcolm Sage's oracular
retort, and he went over to the window and seated himself at his
writing-table.

For the next half-hour he was engaged with his correspondence, and in
telephoning instructions to his office.

By the time Mr. Doulton had breakfasted and shaved, the car was at the
door.

During the run to Stainton both men were silent. Mr. Doulton was
speculating as to what would happen at the Olympia on the following
night if Burns failed to appear, whilst Malcolm Sage was occupied with
thoughts, the object of which was to prevent such a catastrophe.

"They're sure to say it's a yellow streak," Mr. Doulton burst out on one
occasion; but, as Malcolm Sage took no notice of the remark, he subsided
into silence, and the car hummed its way along the Portsmouth Road.

Burns's training quarters were situated at Stainton, near Guildford.
Here, under the vigilant eye of Alf Pond, and with the help of a large
retinue of sparring partners, he was getting himself into what had come
to be called "Burns's condition," which meant that he would enter the
ring trained to the minute. Never did athlete work more conscientiously
than Charley Burns.

As the car turned into a side road, flanked on either hand by elms, Mr.
Doulton tapped on the wind-screen, and Tims pulled up. Malcolm Sage had
requested that the car be stopped a hundred yards before it reached "The
Grove," where the training quarters were situated.

"Wait for me here," he said, as he got out.

"It's the first gate on the right," said Mr. Doulton.

Walking slowly away from the car, Malcolm Sage examined with great care
the road itself. Presently he stopped and taking from his pocket a steel
spring-measure, he proceeded to measure a portion of the surface of the
dusty roadway. Having made several entries in a note-book, he then
turned back to the car, his eyes still on the road.

Instructing Tims to remain where he was, Malcolm Sage motioned to Mr.
Doulton to get out.

"This way," said Malcolm Sage, leading him to the extreme left-hand side
of the road. Turning into the gates of "The Grove," they walked up the
drive towards the house. In front stood a group of men in various and
nondescript costumes.

As Malcolm Sage and Mr. Doulton approached, a man in a soiled white
sweater and voluminous grey flannel trousers generously turned up at the
extremities, detached himself from the group and came towards them. He
was puffy of face with pouched eyes and a moist skin; yet in his day Alf
Pond had been an unbeatable middle-weight, and the greatest master of
ring-craft of his time; but that was nearly a generation ago.

In agonised silence he looked from Mr. Doulton to Malcolm Sage, then
back again to Mr. Doulton. There was in his eyes the misery of despair.

The preliminary greetings over, Alf Pond led the way round to a large
coach-house in the rear, which had been fitted up as a gymnasium. Here
were to be seen all the appliances necessary to the training of a boxer
for a great contest, including a roped ring at one end.

"He was here only yesterday." There was a world of tragedy and pathos in
Alf Pond's tone. Something like a groan burst from the
sparring partners.

With a quick, comprehensive glance, Malcolm Sage seemed to take in every
detail.

"It's a bad business, Pond," said Mr. Doulton, who found the mute
despair of these hard-living, hard-hitting men rather embarrassing.

"What'd I better do?" queried Alf Pond.

"I've put the whole matter in Mr. Sage's hands," said Mr. Doulton.
"He'll find him, if anyone can."

A score of eyes were turned speculatively upon Malcolm Sage. In none was
there the least ray of hope. All had now made up their minds that
Jefferson would win the fight by default.

Slowly and methodically Malcolm Sage drew the story of Burns's
disappearance from Alf Pond, the sparring partners occasionally acting
as a chorus.

When all had been told, Malcolm Sage gazed for some moments at the
finger-nails of his left hand.

"You were confident he would win?" he asked at length.

"Confident!" There was incredulity and wonder in Alf Pond's voice. Then,
with a sudden inspiration, "Look at Kid!" he cried-"look at him!" and he
indicated with a nod a fair-haired giant standing on his right.

Malcolm Sage looked.

The man's face showed the stress and strain of battle. His nose had
taken on something of the quality of cubism, his right eye was out of
commission, there was an ugly purple patch on his left cheek, and his
right ear looked as if a wasp had stung it.

"He did that in one round, and him the third. Kid asked for it, and he
got it, same as Jeff would," explained Alf Pond proudly, a momentary
note of elation in his voice. There was also something of pride in the
grin with which Kid stood the scrutiny of the others.

"Do you know of any reason why Burns should have left his room?" Malcolm
Sage looked from one to the other interrogatingly.

"There wasn't any," was Alf Pond's response, and the others nodded their
concurrence.

"He knew no one in the neighbourhood?"

"No one to speak of. A few local gents would drop in occasional to see
how he was getting on, and then a lot o' newspaper chaps came down from
London." There was that in Alf Pond's tone which seemed to suggest that
in his opinion such questions were foolish.

"Did he receive any letters or telegrams yesterday?" was the next
question.

"Letters!" Alf Pond laughed sardonically. "Shoals of 'em. He'd turn 'em
all over to Sandy Lane," indicating a red-headed man on the right.

"He wasn't much at writing letters," said Sandy Lane, by way of
explanation.

"His hands were made for better things," cried Alf Pond scornfully, and
the sparring partners nodded their agreement

"Did he turn over to you the whole of his correspondence?" asked Malcolm
Sage, turning to Sandy Lane.

"Sometimes he'd keep a letter," broke in Alf Pond, "but not often. Sort
of personal," he added, as if to explain the circumstance.

"From a woman, perhaps?" suggested Malcolm Sage, taking off his hat and
stroking the back of his head.

"Woman!" cried Alf Pond scornfully; "Charley hadn't no use for women, or
he wouldn't have been the boxer he was."

"He was quite himself, quite natural, yesterday?" asked Malcolm Sage.

"Quite himself," repeated Alf Pond deliberately; then, once more
indicating Kid, he added, "Look at Kid; that's what he done in one
round." There was in his tone all the contempt of knowledge for
ignorance.

Malcolm Sage resumed his hat and, taking his pipe from his pocket,
proceeded to stuff it with tobacco, as if that were the only problem in
the world. On everything he did he seemed to concentrate his entire
attention to the exclusion of all else.

"No smokin' here, if you please," said Alf Pond sharply.

Malcolm Sage returned his pipe to his pocket without comment.

"Now, what are you going to do?" There was challenge in Alf Pond's voice
as he eyed Malcolm Sage with disfavour. In his world men with bald,
conical heads and gold-rimmed spectacles did not count for much.

"How many people know of the disappearance?" enquired Malcolm Sage,
ignoring the question.

"Outside of us here, only Mr. Papwith," was the response. For fully a
minute Malcolm Sage did not reply. At length he turned to Mr. Doulton.

"Can you arrange to remain here to meet Mr. Papwith?" he enquired.

"I propose doing so," was the reply.

"You want to find Burns, I suppose?" Malcolm Sage asked of Alf Pond, in
low, level tones.

Alf Pond and his colleagues eyed him as if he had asked a most
astonishing question.

"You barmy?" demanded the trainer, putting into words the looks of the
others.

"You will continue with the day's work as if nothing had happened,"
continued Malcolm Sage. "No one outside must now that--"

"But how the hell are we going to do that with Charley gone?" broke in
Alf Pond, taking a step forward with clenched fists.

"Your friend here," indicating Kid, "can pose as Burns," was Malcolm
Sage's quiet reply, as he looked into the trainer's eye without the
flicker of an eyelash.

"You, Mr. Doulton, I will ask to remain here with Mr. Papwith until I
communicate with you. On no account leave the training quarters, even if
you have to wait here until to-morrow evening."

"But--" began Alf Pond; then he stopped and gazed at the
sparring partners, blinking his eyes in stupid bewilderment.

"Have I your promise?" enquired Malcolm Sage of Mr. Doulton.

"As far as I am concerned, yes," was the response, "and I think I can
answer for Papwith. It's very inconvenient, though."

"Not so inconvenient as having to explain things at the Olympia
to-morrow night," remarked Malcolm Sage dryly. "Now," he continued,
turning once more to Alf Pond, "I suppose you've all got something on
this fight."

"Something on it!" cried Alf Pond; then, turning to the
sparring partners, he cried, "He asks if we've got somethink on it. My
Gawd!" he groaned, "we got our shirts on it. That's what we got on it,
our shirts," and his voice broke in something like a sob.

"You had better post someone at the gate to tell all enquirers that
Burns is doing well and is confident of winning," said Malcolm Sage to
Mr. Doulton, "and keep an eye on the telephone. Tell anyone who rings up
the same; in fact"--and he turned to the others--"as far as you are
concerned, Burns is still with you. Do you understand?"

They looked at one another in a way that was little suggestive of
understanding.

"Did Burns wear the same clothes throughout the day?" asked Malcolm Sage
of the trainer.

"Course he didn't!" Alf Pond made no effort to disguise the contempt he
felt. "In the daytime he used to wear flannel trousers an' a sweater,
same as me, except when he was sparrin', then he put on drawers. Always
would have everythink same as it was goin' to be, would Charley--seconds
referee, timekeeper. Said it made him feel at home when the time came.
Quaint he was in some of his ideas."

"Then from the time he got up until bedtime he wore the same clothes?"
queried Malcolm Sage, without looking up from the inevitable
contemplation of his finger-nails.

"No he didn't." Alf Pond spat his boredom at these useless questions
into a far corner. "He was always a bit of a nib, was Charley. After
he'd finished the day's work he'd put on a suit o' dark duds, a white
collar, a watch on his wrist, an' all that bunko. Then we'd play poker
or billiards till half-past eight, when we'd all turn in." The look with
which Alf Pond concluded this itinerary plainly demanded if there were
any more damn silly questions coming.

"Now I should like to see Burns's room."

Malcolm Sage and Mr. Doulton followed Alf Pond upstairs to a large room
on the first floor, as destitute of the attributes of comfort as a
guardroom. A bed, a wash-hand stand, and a chest of drawers comprised
the furniture. A few articles of clothing were strewn about, and in one
corner lay a pair of dumb-bells.

The windows were open top and bottom; Malcolm Sage passed from one to
the other and looked out. He examined carefully each of the
window-ledges.

"Are these the clothes he wore when he got up?" he enquired, indicating
a sweater and a pair of flannel trousers that lay on a chair.

Alf Pond nodded.

Swiftly Malcolm Sage felt in the pockets. There was nothing there. A
minute later he left the room, followed by the others. Descending the
stairs, he passed along the hall and out on to the short drive,
accompanied by Mr. Doulton and Alf Pond.

Half-way towards the gate Malcolm Sage stopped.

"You will hear from me some time to-day or to-morrow," he said. "Do
exactly as I have said and, if I don't telephone before to-morrow
evening, go to the Olympia as if Burns were to be there. You might have
sent out to my car a pair of drawers and boots in case I find him."

"You're going to find him then?" Alf Pond suddenly gripped Malcolm
Sage's arm with what was almost ferocity. Malcolm Sage shrugged his
shoulders.

"If you do as I tell you, it will help. By the way," he added, "if you
have time, you might put twenty-five pounds on Burns for me. Mr. Doulton
will be responsible for the amount. Now I want to look about me," and
with that Malcolm Sage walked a few steps down the drive, leaving two
men staring after him as if he had either solved or propounded the
riddle of the universe.

For some minutes he stood in the centre of the drive, looking about him.
Stepping to the right, he glanced back at the house, and then towards
the road. Finally he made for a large clump of rhododendrons that lay
between the road and the house.

Motioning the others to remain where they were on the gravelled drive,
he walked to a clear space of short grass between the rhododendrons and
the hedge bordering the road.

Going down upon his knees, he proceeded to examine the ground with great
care and attention. For nearly half an hour he crawled from place to
place, absorbed in grass, shrub, and flower-bed. Finally he penetrated
half into the privet-hedge that bordered the road.

The sparring partners had now joined the other two on the drive, and the
group stood watching the strange movements of the man who, in their
opinion, had already shown obvious symptoms of insanity.

Presently Malcolm Sage emerged from the hedge, in his hand a long cigar,
round the centre of which was a red-and-gold band. For fully a minute he
stood examining this with great care. Then, taking a letter-case from
his pocket, he carefully placed the cigar in the hinge, returned the
case to his pocket, and rejoined the group of wide-eyed spectators.

"Found anythink?" enquired Alf Pond eagerly.

"Several things," replied Malcolm Sage.

"What?" The men grouped themselves round him, breathless with interest.

"By the way," said Malcolm Sage, turning to Alf Pond, "does Burns happen
to smoke long Havana cigars with a red--"

"Smoke!" yelled Alf Pond in horror. "Him smoke! You blinkin' well
barmy?" he demanded, looking Malcolm Sage up and down as if meditating
an attack upon him. "I'd like to see the man who'd so much as dare to
strike a match here," and he glared about him angrily, whilst the
sparring partners shuffled their feet and murmured among themselves.
There was just the suspicion of a fluttering at the corners of Malcolm
Sage's mouth.

"I'm afraid Pond is rather excited just at present," said Mr. Doulton
tactfully. By now he had entirely regained his own composure. "Burns is
a great lover of tobacco, and Pond takes no risks. You were saying that
you had discovered several things?"

Again the group of men drew closer to Malcolm Sage, their heads thrust
forward as if fearful of missing a word.

"For one thing, Burns left his room last night to meet a woman by--"

"It's a lie!" cried Alf Pond heatedly. "It's a damned lie! I don't
believe it."

"A rather dainty creature, small and well dressed. She was accompanied
by several men, one of them rather stout, very careful of his clothes,
and an inveterate smoker. The others were bigger, rougher men. They all
came in a car, which arrived after the motor bicycle, which in turn
arrived later than the small car."

The sparring partners exchanged glances, whilst Alf Pond stared.

"Subsequently they drove off in a very great hurry. Incidentally they
took Burns with them; but against his will. On the way down the girl was
in the tonneau; but on the return journey she sat beside the driver. As
Burns was in the tonneau, it was no doubt a precaution."

"I don't believe a word," interrupted Alf Pond. "He's makin' it all up."

Without appearing to notice the remark, Malcolm Sage turned and walked
towards the gate, Mr. Doulton following a step in the rear.

"Liar!" growled Alf Pond, as he turned towards the house. "Ruddy liar!"
he added, as if finding consolation in the term. "He'll never find old
Charley."

"Tell me, Sage, were you serious?" asked Mr. Doulton, as they reached
the gate.

"Entirely."

"I'm afraid poor Pond thought you were making game of us," he added
apologetically. "Do you mind explaining how you arrived at your
conclusions?"

"Behind that clump of rhododendrons," began Malcolm age, "there is
written a whole history. The marks of boots, or shoes, with very high
heels suggest a woman, the size and daintiness of the footwear tell the
rest. As Burns appeared, she stepped towards him. Her very short steps
indicate both fashionable clothes and smallness of stature."

"And the man who was careful about his clothes?"

"He stood behind a holly bush with an umbrella--"

"But how did you know?"

"He had been leaning upon it, and there was the mark where it had sunk
into the soft turf up to the point where the silk joins the stick. A man
who carries an umbrella on a kidnapping adventure must be habitually in
fear of rain--none but a well-dressed man would fear rain.

"Then, as he had a cigar in his hand with the end bitten off, it shows
the habitual smoker. He was only waiting for the end of the drama before
lighting up. His height I get from his stride, and his size by the fact
that, like Humpty-Dumpty, he had a great fall. I'll tell you the rest
later. I'm afraid it's an ugly business."

"But the girl riding beside the driver?" burst out Mr. Doulton,
bewildered by the facts that Malcolm Sage had deduced from so little.

"At the edge of a side-road there is invariably a deposit of dust, and
the marks where they all got out and in are clearly visible. The hurry
of departure is shown by the fact that the car started before one of the
men had taken his place, and his footsteps running beside it before
jumping on to the running-board are quite clear. I'll ring you up later.
I cannot stay now." And with that he hurried away.

"Back along your own tracks, Tims," said he on reaching the car. He then
walked on to the main road.

With head over right shoulder, Tims carefully backed the car, Malcolm
Sage signalling that he was to turn to the right.

Instructing Tims to drive slowly, Malcolm Sage took his seat beside him,
keeping his eyes fixed upon the off-side of the road. He stopped the car
at each cross-road, and walked down it some twenty or thirty yards, his
eyes bent downwards as if in search of something. At the end of half an
hour he instructed Tims to drive back to London at his best speed.

That afternoon in his office Malcolm Sage worked without cessation. Both
telephones, incoming and outgoing, were continually in use. Telegraph
girls and messenger boys came and went.

Gladys Norman had ceased to worry about the shininess of her nose, and
William Johnson was in process of readjusting his ideas as to lack of
the dramatic element at the Malcolm Sage Bureau as compared with
detective fiction and the films.

About three o'clock a tall, clean-shaven man was shown into Malcolm
Sage's room. He had a hard mouth, keen, alert eyes, and an air
suggestive of the fact that he knew the worst there was to be known
about men and acted accordingly.

With a nod Malcolm Sage motioned him to a seat. Six months before he had
saved Dick Lindler from the dock by discovering the real criminal in
whose stead Lindler was about to be charged with a series of frauds.
Since then Malcolm Sage had always been sure of such "inside"
information in the bookmaking world as he required.

"How's the betting now?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"Nine to two on Jefferson offered; and no takers," was the reply.
"There's something up, Mr. Sage; I'll take my dying oath on it," he
said, leaning across the table and dropping his voice.

"Any big amounts?" enquired Malcolm Sage.

"No, that's what troubles me. The money's being spread about so. The
funny thing is that a lot of it is being put on by letter. I've had a
dozen myself to-day."

Malcolm Sage nodded slowly as he filled his pipe, which with great
deliberation he proceeded to light until the whole surface of the
tobacco glowed. Then, as if suddenly realising that Lindler was not
smoking, he pulled open a drawer, drew out a cigar-box, and pushed it
across, watching him closely from beneath his eyebrows as he did so.

Lindler opened the box, then looked interrogatingly at Malcolm Sage.

"Didn't know you smoked the same poison-sticks as the 'Downy One,’” he
said, picking up a long cigar with a red-and-gold band, and examining
it.

"Who's he?"

"Old Nathan Goldschmidt, the stinking Jew."

"I'm sorry," said Malcolm Sage; "that should not have been there. Try
one of the others."

Lindler looked across at him curiously.

"Personally, myself," he said, "I believe he's at the bottom of all this
heavy backing of Jefferson."

Malcolm Sage continued to smoke as if the matter did not interest him,
whilst Lindler bit off the end of the cigar he had selected and
proceeded to light it.

"Several of his crowd have been around this morning trying to load me
up," he continued presently, when the cigar was drawing to his
satisfaction. "Must have stayed up all night to be in time," he added
scathingly.

"Have you seen Goldschmidt himself?"

"Not since yesterday afternoon."

"Does he usually carry an umbrella?"

Lindler laughed.

"The boys call him 'Gampy Goldschmidt,'" he said.

"You really think that the Goldschmidt gang is backing Jefferson?"

"They've been at it for the last week," was the response. "They know
something, Mr. Sage. Somebody's going to do the dirty, otherwise they
wouldn't be so blasted clever about it."

"Clever?"

"Putting on all they can on the Q.T.," was the response.

"Find out all you can about Goldschmidt and his friends. Keep in touch
with me here if you learn anything. Incidentally, keep on the
water-wagon until after the fight."

"Right-o!" said Lindler, rising; "but I wish you'd tell me--"

"I have told you," said Malcolm Sage, and with that he took the
proffered hand and, a moment later, Dick Lindler passed through the
outer door. As he did so, he almost collided with Thompson, who had just
jumped out of Malcolm Sage's car and was dashing towards the door.
Thompson rushed across the outer office, through the glass-panelled
door, and passed swiftly into Malcolm Sage's room.

"It's the car right enough. Chief," he said, making an effort to control
his excitement. "I picked it up outside Jimmy Dilk's. There were three
men in it."

Malcolm Sage nodded, then, opening a drawer, produced a sealed packet.

"If I'm not back here by half-past four," he said, "ring up Inspector
Wensdale, and ask him to come round at once with a couple of men and
wait in the outer office. Give him this packet. There's a letter inside.
If he's not there, get anyone else you know."

Thompson stared. In spite of long association with Malcolm Sage, there
were still times when he failed to follow his chief's line of reasoning.

"If I telephone or write cancelling these instructions, ignore anything
I say. Do you understand?"

"I understand, Chief," said Thompson.

Malcolm Sage picked up his hat and stick and left the room. Tims, who
had been waiting at the outer door, sprang to his seat and, almost
before the door of the car had closed, it jerked forward and was soon
threading its sinuous way towards Coventry Street.

Five minutes later Malcolm Sage pressed a bell-push on the fifth floor
of a large block of flats known as Coventry Mansions. The door was
opened by a heavily-built, ill-favoured man. In response to Malcolm
Sage's request to see Mr. Goldschmidt, he was told that he couldn't.

"Tell him," said Malcolm Sage, fixing his steel-grey eyes upon the man
in a steady gaze, "that Mr. Malcolm Sage wishes to see him about
something that happened last night, and about something more that is to
happen to-morrow night. He'll understand."

A sudden look of apprehension in the man's eyes seemed to suggest that
he at least understood. He hesitated for a moment, then, with a gruff
"Wait there," shut the door in Malcolm Sage's face. Three minutes later
he opened it again and, inviting him to enter, led the way along a
passage, at the end of which was a door, which the man threw open.

Malcolm Sage found himself in a darkened room, from which the light was
excluded by heavy curtains. For a moment he looked about him, unable to
distinguish any object. When his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he
saw seated in an arm-chair a man with a handkerchief held to his face.

"Mr. Goldschmidt?" he interrogated, as he seated himself in the centre
of the room.

"Well, what is it?" was the thickly spoken retort.

"I came to ask your views on the fight to-morrow night, and to enquire
if you think the odds of nine to two on Jefferson are justified."

There was an exclamation from the arm-chair.

"If you've got anything to say," said the thick voice angrily, "get it
off your chest and go--to hell," he added, as an afterthought. "What do
you want?" the voice demanded, as Malcolm Sage remained silent.

"I want you to take a little run with me in my car," said Malcolm Sage
evenly. "Fresh air will do your nose good."

"What the--" the man broke off, apparently choked with passion, then,
recovering himself, added, "Here, cough it up, or else I'll have you
thrown out into the street! What is it?"

"I want either you, or one of your friends, to come with me to where
Charley Burns has been taken."

There was a stifled exclamation from the chair, then a howl of agony as
the hand holding the handkerchief dropped. At the same moment three men
burst into the room. Malcolm Sage's back was to the door. He did not
even turn to look at them.

Somebody switched on the light, and Malcolm Sage saw before him the
puffy face of a man of about sixty, in the centre of which was a hideous
purple splotch that had once been a nose. A moment later the
handkerchief obscured the unsavoury sight.

"What the hell's all this about?" shouted one of the men, advancing into
the room, the others remaining by the door.

Slowly Malcolm Sage turned and regarded the three men, whose appearance
proclaimed their pugilistic calling.

"I was just asking Mr. Goldschmidt to be so good as to accompany me to
where Charley Burns is--"

He was interrupted by exclamations from all three men.

"What the hell do you mean?" demanded he who had spoken, a dark,
ill-favoured fellow with a brow like a rainy sky.

"I will tell you," said Malcolm Sage. "Last night Mr. Goldschmidt,
accompanied by certain friends, went to Burns's training quarters to
keep an appointment made in the name of a girl friend of Burns. He came
out quite unsuspectingly, was overpowered, and subsequently taken in Mr.
Goldschmidt's car to a place with which I am unacquainted, so that he
shall not appear at the Olympia to-morrow night."

He drew his pipe from his pocket and proceeded to fill it. His air was
that of a chess player who knows that he can mate his opponent in two
moves.

"It's a damned lie!" roared one of the men, whilst Goldschmidt shrieked
something that was unintelligible.

"You drove out by way of Putney Hill, Esher, and Clandon Cross Roads.
You backed the car to within two hundred yards of 'The Grove,' where you
all got out with the exception of the driver. You then entered 'The
Grove,' taking cover behind a large clump of rhododendrons."

"It's a damned lie," choked Goldschmidt.

"By the way," continued Malcolm Sage, "your fair friend drove out in the
tonneau; but returned seated beside the driver, and one of you was
nearly left behind and entered the car after it had started."

The men looked at one another in bewilderment.

"You, Goldschmidt, carried an umbrella," continued Malcolm Sage, "and
took cover behind the holly bush; but you came out a little too soon,
hence that nose. Burns was playing 'possum. You were rather anxious for
a smoke too. I am a smoker myself."

A stream of profanity burst from Goldschmidt's lips.

"You see I am in a position to prove my points," said Malcolm Sage
calmly.

"Oh! you are, are you?" sneered the spokesman, as he moved a little
closer to Malcolm Sage, "and I am in the position to prove that we're
four to one."

"Three to one," corrected Malcolm Sage quietly. "Your friend,"
indicating Goldschmidt, with a nod, "is scarcely--"

He was interrupted by a stifled oath from the arm-chair.

"Good old Nigger!" murmured one of the men by the door.

"Well, and what about it?" demanded Nigger.

"If Burns is delivered over to me within two hours, unharmed and in
fighting trim, and a cheque for 1,000 is paid to St. Timothy's Hospital
by noon tomorrow, there will be no prosecution, and I will not divulge
your names. If not, during the next twenty-four hours, London will
probably have its first experience of lynch-law."

With that Malcolm Sage struck a match and proceeded to light his pipe.

"That all?" sneered the man. "Ain't there nothink else you'd like?"

"I cannot recall anything else at the moment," said Malcolm Sage
imperturbably, as he looked across at the fellow over the top of the
burning match.

"You dirty nark," burst out the man by the door, who had hitherto
remained silent. "A pretty sort of stool-pigeon you are."

"Spyin' on us, wasn't you?" demanded Nigger, edging nearer to Malcolm
Sage.

"It's ten minutes past four," remarked Malcolm Sage coolly, as he
glanced at his wrist-watch.

"Oh, it is, is it?" was the retort, "and in another hour it'll be ten
minutes past five."

"I have to be back at my office by half-past four." Malcolm Sage looked
about for some receptacle in which to throw the spent match.

"You don't say so." Again Nigger edged a little nearer; but Malcolm Sage
appeared not to notice it.

"Well, I may as well tell you that you don't leave here until eleven
o'clock to-morrow night, see?"

There were murmurs of approval from the others.

"Then, perhaps, you will send out and buy me a tooth-brush," was Malcolm
Sage's quiet rejoinder.

CHAPTER XVI

THE GREAT FIGHT AT THE OLYMPIA

NEVER had the Olympia seen such a crowd as was gathered to watch the
fight between Charley Burns of England and Joe Jefferson of America.
Never in its career of hybrid ugliness had it witnessed such excitement.

For thirty-six hours the wildest rumours had been current. Charley Burns
had broken down, run away, committed suicide, and refused to fight. He
had broken a leg, an arm, a finger, and had torn more tendons than he
possessed. He had sprained ankles, wrung withers, been overtrained, had
contracted every known disease in addition to manifesting a yellow
streak.

The atmosphere was electrical. The spectators whispered among
themselves, exchanging views and rumours. The most fantastical stories
were related, credited, and debated with gravity and concern.

If some ill-advised optimist ventured to question a particularly
lugubrious statement, he was challenged to explain the betting, which
had crept up to six to one on Jefferson offered with no takers.

The arrival of the Prince of Wales gave a welcome vent for pent-up
excitement. Accustomed as he was to enthusiastic acclamation, the Prince
seemed a little embarrassed by the warmth and intensity of his greeting.

The preliminary bouts ran their course, of interest only to those
immediately concerned, who were more truly alone in the midst of that
vast concourse than some anchorite in the desert of Sahara.

The heat was unbearable, the atmosphere suffocating. Men smoked their
cigars and cigarettes jerkily, now indulging in a series of staccatoed
puffs, now ignoring them until they went out.

Slowly the time crept on as by the bedside of death. If those
ridiculously bobbing figures in the ring would only cease their
caperings!

"Break! Break!" The voice of the referee suddenly split through a
"pocket" of silence. Everyone seemed startled, then the curtain of sound
once more descended and wrapped the assembly in its impenetrable folds.
The gong sounded the beginning and the end of each round, and so it went
on.

Mr. Papwith sat in the front row near the Prince. Smiling, smiling, for
ever smiling. He was a dapper little man, with a fiery, clean-shaven
face, and a fringe of grizzled hair above his ears that gave the lie to
the auburn silkiness with which his head was crowned. Next to him was
Mr. Doulton, who chatted and smiled, smiled and chatted; but his eyes
moved restlessly over the basin of faces, as if in search of an answer
to some unuttered question.

At length the preliminary bouts were ended. As the combatants had
arrived unheralded, so they departed unsung. Although no one appeared to
be watching, a sudden hush fell over the assembly. The dramatic moment
had arrived. A few minutes would see the rumours confirmed or disproved.
Men, seasoned spectators of a hundred fights, found the tension almost
unbearable.

The M.C. climbed through the ropes and looked fussily about him. He
appealed to the spectators for silence during the actual rounds and for
the discontinuance of smoking. A black cardboard box, sealed as if it
contained duelling-pistols instead of gloves, was thrust into the ring.
Men took a last fond draw at their cigars and cigarettes before
mechanically extinguishing them.

All eyes were directed towards the spot where the combatants would
appear.

The referee turned expectantly in the same direction. A group of men in
flannels and sweaters was seen moving towards the ring. Among them was a
sleek, dark-haired man in a long dressing-gown of bottle green. It was
Joe Jefferson.

Suddenly a great roar burst out, echoing and re-echoing continuously as
the group approached the ring and Jefferson climbed through the ropes.

Then came another hush. A second group of men was observed approaching
the ring. There was a shout as those nearest recognised Alf Pond among
them. It developed into a roar, then died away as if strangled, giving
place to a hum of suppressed inquiry. Everyone was either asking, or
looking, the same question.

"Where is Burns?"

Alf Pond and his associates moved to the ringside as if bound for a
funeral.

Their gloom seemed suddenly to pervade the whole vast concourse. Men
talked to one another mechanically, their eyes fixed upon the group.

There was a strange hush. The men reached the ringside and stood looking
at one another. The audience looked at them. What had happened?

None seemed to notice three men moving down the opposite gangway towards
the ring. The man in the centre was muffled in a heavy overcoat that
reached to his heels, a soft felt hat was pulled down over his eyes. One
or two spectators in their immediate neighbourhood gave them a hasty,
curious glance.

Suddenly Alf Pond gave a wild whoop and, breaking away from his fellows,
dashed towards the three strangers. In a moment the overcoat and muffler
were thrown aside and the hat knocked off, revealing the fair-haired and
smiling Charley Burns.

Gripping Burns's hand, Alf Pond broke down. Tears streamed down his
battle-seared features, and he sobbed with the choking agony of a strong
man.

Then suddenly everything became enveloped in a dense volume of sound.
Men and women stood on their chairs and waved frantically, madly,
anything they could clutch hold of to wave. The whole Olympia appeared
to have gone mad. Noble peers, grave judges, sedate generals and austere
philosophers acted as if suddenly bereft of the restraining influences
of civilisation and decorum.

Hugged and fondled by his seconds, Burns reached the ring and climbed
into it. The black cardboard box was opened, the men's hands bandaged,
the gloves donned. Still the pandemonium raged, now dying down, now
bursting out again with increased volume.

Jefferson and Burns shook hands. The referee stood in the middle of the
ring and, with arms extended aloft, appeared to be imploring the
blessing of heaven. The crowd, however, understood, and the great uproar
died down to a hum of sound.

Then for the first time it was noticed that, in place of the habitual
smile that had made Burns the idol he was, there was a grim set about
his jaw that caused those nearest to the ring to wonder and to
speculate.

Charley Burns's "battle-smile" had become almost a tradition.

"If he'd only fight more and box less," Alf Pond would say
complainingly, "he'd beat the whole blinkin' world with one hand."

Suddenly a hush fell upon the assembly, a hush as pronounced as had been
the previous pandemonium. The referee took a final look round. Behind
Burns, Alf Pond could be seen sponging his face over a small bucket. He
was once more himself. There were things to be done.

Almost before anyone realised it the gong sounded; the fight had begun.

"God!" The exclamation broke involuntarily from Alf Pond, as he dropped
the sponge and gazed before him with wide-staring eyes.

"He's fighting," he cried, almost dancing with excitement. "Did ever you
see the like, Sandy?" But Sandy's eyes were glued upon the ring. His
hands and feet moved convulsively--he was a fighter himself.

Discarding his traditional opening of boxing with swift defensive
watchfulness, Charley Burns had darted at his man. Before anyone knew
what was happening his left crashed between Jefferson's eyes, a blow
that caused him to reel back almost to the ropes.

Before he could recover, a right hook had sent him staggering against
the ropes themselves. For a second it looked as if he would collapse
over them. Pulling himself together, however, he strove to clinch; but
Burns was too quick for him. Stepping back swiftly, he feinted with his
left, and Jefferson, expecting a repetition of the first blow, raised
his guard. A white right arm shot out to the mark, and Jefferson went
down with a crash.

The timekeeper's voice began to drone the monotonous count; at eight
Jefferson gathered himself together; at nine he was on his feet.

Once more Burns was upon him, and Jefferson saved himself by clinching.
It was clear that he was badly shaken.

Three times during the first round Burns floored his man. The onlookers
were mad with excitement.

Back in his own corner, Charley Burns was sitting, a hard set look in
his eyes, his jaw square and firm.

Alf Pond fussed about him like a hen over a chick.

"Shut up, Alf! I know what I'm doing," said Burns sharply.

"He knows what he's doing," repeated Alf Pond ecstatically. "Hear that.
Sandy? He knows what he's doing, and so does Jeff, I'll lay a pony to a
pink pill," he added.

Once more the gong sounded; once more Burns sprang up and darted at his
man. Jefferson tried first to dodge and then to clinch; but without
avail. He was unnerved. His strategy and tactics had been planned in
view of Burns's usual methods; but here was an entirely different man to
deal with--a great fighter.

Twice more Jefferson went down, taking a count of nine on each occasion.
He seemed to share with the spectators the knowledge that there would be
no third round.

On rising the second time he seemed determined to change his tactics. He
rushed forward, fighting gamely, apparently in the hope of getting a
lucky knock-out blow. Without giving an inch, Burns threw off the blows
and, feinting with his left, crashed his right full on the point of his
opponent's jaw. Jefferson's hands fell, and for a second he stood gazing
stupidly before him; then his knees sagged and, with a deliberation that
seemed almost intolerable, he crashed forward on his face, one arm
outstretched as if in protest.

Again the timekeeper's voice was heard monotonously counting. Burns
turned to his corner without waiting for the conclusion of the count. He
knew the strength behind that blow.

Later that night, just as Big Ben was taking breath preparatory to his
supreme effort, Malcolm Sage was seated in his big arm-chair smoking a
final pipe before bed, and turning over in his mind the happenings of
the day and the probable events of the morrow.

His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a hammering at the
outer door of his chambers, followed by the sound of loud and hilarious
voices as Rogers answered the summons.

A moment later the door of the sitting-room burst open, and there flowed
into the room Charley Burns and his entourage, all obviously in the best
of spirits. In the background stood Rogers, with expressionless face,
looking towards his master.

Malcolm Sage rose and shook hands with Burns, Mr. Doulton and Mr.
Papwith, Alf Pond and his assistants.

"Sorry, Mr. Sage," cried Burns, with a laugh; "but the boys wouldn't
wait, although I told them calling time was four till six," and he
laughed again, the laugh of a man who has not a care in the world. He
also gripped Malcolm Sage's hand with a heartiness that made him wince.
The others in turn shook hands in a way that caused Malcolm Sage to
wonder why America had not long since ceased to be a Republic.

The men dropped into chairs in various parts of the room, and Rogers,
who had disappeared at a signal from Malcolm Sage, now returned with a
tray of glasses, syphons, and decanters. Soon the whole company was
drinking the health of Malcolm Sage with an earnestness which convinced
him that on the morrow there would be trouble with Colonel Sappinger,
who lived above and cherished Carlyle's hatred of sound.

"And now, Mr. Sage," said Alf Pond, "we want to know how you found
Charley. He won't tell us anythink. Wonderful, I call it," he added, and
there was a murmur of assent from the others, as they proceeded to light
the cigars that Rogers handed round.

"It was not very difficult," said Malcolm Sage, stuffing tobacco into
his pipe from a terra-cotta jar beside him. As he applied a light to the
bowl the others exchanged glances.

"From the first," he continued, "it was obvious that some message, or
letter, had been conveyed to our friend Burns." He gazed across at the
champion, who looked uncomfortable.

"As he had not mentioned the fact to any of his friends," continued
Malcolm Sage, a little slyly, "it seemed obvious to assume that there
was a lady in the case."

Alf Pond looked reproachfully at Burns, who reddened beneath the united
gaze of seven pairs of eyes.

"That the appointment had been for the evening," proceeded Malcolm Sage,
"was obvious from the fact that Burns disappeared in the blue suit he
always changed into after the day's work."

Alf Pond looked across at Mr. Doulton, nodding his approval of the
reasoning.

"It was Kitty, or I thought it was," burst out Burns. "She said
something terrible had happened and that she must see me," he added.

Kitty Graham was shortly to become Mrs. Charley Burns, but during the
period of training she had been rigorously excluded from all intercourse
with her fiance by order of the autocratic Alf Pond.

"The meeting was arranged for the further side of the large clump of
rhododendrons, which acted as a screen," continued Malcolm Sage. "When
Burns arrived there, he saw a girl standing a little distance away.
Before he could reach her, however, he was seized and a chloroformed pad
held over his mouth. The suddenness of the attack dazed him; he did not
struggle, but held his breath; he--"

"How the blazes did you know that, Mr. Sage?" burst out Burns.

"You are always a quick-thinker in the ring," said Malcolm Sage, "and
you were a quick-thinker then. You smelt chloroform, held your breath
and thought. It was a sort of instinctive ring-craft."

"But you--" began Burns.

"There were no marks of a struggle where you were seized. You probably
realised that your only chance lay in letting the enemy think you were
losing consciousness."

Burns nodded.

"Seeing that there was no sign of trouble," continued Malcolm Sage, "the
principal in this little affair stepped out from where he had been
taking cover just at the moment when Burns broke loose and let out.
Movement has always a primary attraction for the eye, and Burns got this
man full on the nose and ruined it. He also sent him clean into the
privet-hedge, where he collapsed."

"Who was it?" demanded Alf Pond fiercely.

"There were, however, too many of them for Burns," continued Malcolm
Sage, ignoring the question. "They had planned the attack very
carefully, each clinging to a limb. Soon they had him unconscious and
bound in the car. Then they turned their attention to their leader."

"Yes; but how did you find Burns?" asked Mr. Doulton eagerly.

"I didn't," said Malcolm Sage. "They showed me where he was."

"But--" began Mr. Papwith, whose shiny, clean-shaven face, normally
suggestive of a Turner sunset, now looked like a conflagration.

"After half an hour's fruitless effort to track the car down side-roads,
I returned to London as fast as my man could take me," proceeded Malcolm
Sage, "and I immediately set enquiries on foot as to the betting on the
Stock Exchange, at Tattersall's, the National Sporting Club, and other
places. By three o'clock that afternoon I knew pretty well who it was
that had been laying heavily against Burns. That simplified matters."

Alf Pond and Burns exchanged admiring glances.

"As you know, for more than a week previously the betting had made it
clear that heavy sums were being laid on Jefferson. In the course of ten
days it had veered round from 5 to 4 on Burns to 9 to 2 against. As
there were no rumours detrimental to his condition or state of health,
this could only mean that a lot of money was being put on Jefferson. I
found out the names of the principal layers and the amounts. I
discovered that all were extremely active with the exception of one.
That I decided was the man with the umbrella."

"Who's he?" demanded Sandy, whose mouth had not ceased to gape since
Malcolm Sage began his story.

"The man Burns knocked out. He had been leaning rather heavily on the
handle whilst taking cover behind a holly bush, and the metal cap at the
base of the silk was clearly marked on the ground. He was also holding
an unlit cigar in his hand, which he left in the hedge. By great good
chance this was recognised by someone I happen to know as a brand smoked
by a certain backer of Jefferson."

"Well, I'm damned!" broke in Alf Pond, with intense earnestness.

"So you see, I had quite a lot to help me. I was searching for a
well-dressed man--"

"But how did you know he was well-dressed?" queried Mr. Doulton.

"His footprints showed that he wore boots of a fashionable model,"
explained Malcolm Sage. "He also carried an umbrella, even on an
occasion such as this.

"I had to look for a well-dressed man who always carried an umbrella,
and who smoked large and expensive cigars and, most important of all,
whose nose had been smashed out of all recognition."

"But how could you tell I got him on the nose?" demanded Burns, leaning
forward eagerly.

"There was quite a pool of blood beneath the hedge," explained Malcolm
Sage. "He was probably there for some minutes while his friends were
making sure of you, Burns. Blood would not have flowed so generously as
a result of a blow from the fist except from the nose."

"You're a knock-out, that's what you are, Mr. Sage," said Alf Pond, with
admiring conviction. "I'd never have thought of it all," he added, with
the air of one desiring to be absolutely fair.

"Finally," continued Malcolm Sage, "there was the car. It was a large
car, a defect in one of the tyres enabled me to determine that by a
steel rule. It was obviously heavily laden and the near back wheel was
out of track. This fact, of course, was of no help on the high-road,
where other cars would blot out the track; but if I could show that
someone who had been heavily backing Jefferson had a nose badly damaged,
and a car with a near back wheel out of track in just the same way that
this particular wheel was out of track, and that its tyres were the same
as those of the car that drew up outside Burns's training-quarters, then
I should have a wealth of circumstantial evidence that it would be
almost impossible to confute.

"From a friend at Scotland Yard I obtained the number of the car
belonging to the man whom this evidence involved.

"As Stainton is off the Portsmouth Road, I telephoned to the Automobile
Association patrols at Putney Hill, Esher, and Clandon Cross Roads. I
was told that on the previous evening this particular car was seen going
in the direction of Guildford. These patrols take the numbers of all
cars that pass. As it had not passed Liss, where the next patrol is
stationed, it was another link in the chain."

"Well, I'm blowed!" The exclamation broke involuntarily from Kid.

"As the patrols go off duty at dusk, I could get no further help from
them," continued Malcolm Sage. "I sent a man to watch Jefferson's
training-quarters, although I was fairly certain that he and his party
were in no way involved."

Malcolm Sage went on to narrate his call upon Nathan Goldschmidt,
carefully omitting any mention of the name or address. His hearers
listened with breathless interest.

"I concluded that they had taken their prisoner to some lonely, empty
house," he explained, "but there was not time to search all the empty
houses in the home counties, so the man with the damaged nose had to
come with me in my car, and his friends followed in his."

"But how did you manage it?" gasped Mr. Papwith. .

"At first they showed fight," said Malcolm Sage, "and threatened to keep
me prisoner until after the fight."

"Gee!" exclaimed Kid.

"I anticipated some such move, and had instructed my people that unless
I were back by half-past four, they were to deliver certain packets to
the editors of well-known London papers. In these packets was told the
story as far as I had been able to trace it. This I informed them."

"What did they say to that?" asked Mr. Doulton.

"They insisted that I telephone countermanding my orders; but as I
explained that I had told my man Thompson he was to disregard any
telephone message, or written instructions, he might receive from me,
they realised that the game was up. I also informed them that Inspector
Wensdale and two of his men were waiting at my office in anticipation of
a possible hold-up."

"Well, I'm blessed," exclaimed Alf Pond. "If you ain't It."

"I pointed out," continued Malcolm Sage, "that whereas by producing
Burns they would have a fight for their money, if the truth became
known, not only would their bets most likely be forfeited; but they
would probably have to go to law to recover their stake-money. I further
pledged Mr. Doulton, Mr. Papwith, and Burns not to take any legal
action. I rather suspect that in this I was technically conspiring to
defeat the ends of justice."

"But weren't you afraid they'd do a double cross?" asked Burns.

"They heard me instruct one of my assistants that unless I were back by
nine o'clock that evening, the notes I had written and addressed were to
be delivered. Incidentally the inspector was present, unofficially of
course."

"You oughter been in the ring with a head like that," said Alf Pond
sorrowfully.

"We found Burns fairly comfortable in the wine-cellar of an empty house
near Ripley. They had left him food and water and beer. In all
probability on awakening to-morrow morning, had we not found him, he
would have discovered the door unlocked and himself no longer a
prisoner." Malcolm Sage paused with the air of one who has told his
story.

"But why did you keep Papwith and me at Stainton until late this
afternoon?" enquired Mr. Doulton.

"In the first instance, to be in charge and to see that Burns's
disappearance was kept secret. It was obvious that every endeavour would
be made to put a lot of money on Jefferson before the fact became known.
This would lead to rumour, and later to enquiry. Subsequently I decided
that you were both better out of London, as you would have been
interviewed and bound to give something away, in spite of the utmost
caution."

"And now, Mr. Sage," said Mr. Doulton, "who are the scoundrels?"

"I have promised not to give their names," was the quiet reply.

"Not give their names?" cried several of his hearers in unison.

Malcolm Sage then proceeded to explain that unless the gang had seen a
loop-hole of escape they would not have thrown up the sponge. "Had
exposure been inevitable in any case they would have brazened it out,
knowing that, whatever happened to themselves, Burns could not appear at
the Olympia. The knowledge that their identity would not be divulged
tempted them to risk the loss of their money. Apart from this," he
added, "the details I was able to give seemed to convince them that they
had either been watched or given away.

"You must remember that they have lost enormous sums of money," Malcolm
Sage went on, "and there will be another 1,000 pounds for St. Timothy's
Hospital. It was further understood that, if I could discover any one of
them had inspired a covering bet, I was released from my promise. That
is why the odds got to six to one. Incidentally they ensured the defeat
of their man. When Burns entered the ring to-night, it was to fight, not
to box."

"That's true," said Alf Pond, nodding his head and reaching for another
cigar. "He never fought like it before in all his puff."

"And where were you last night?" enquired Mr. Papwith of Burns.

"In my bed," said Malcolm Sage, "and my friend Inspector Wensdale of
Scotland Yard and I slept here. Burns has never been out of Wensdale's
sight until we handed him over this evening."

"I've been having police protection," laughed Burns.

"Still, you didn't oughter have gone two days without doing anythink,"
said Alf Pond.

"Oh! I had a bit of sparring with Mr. Sage," said Burns, "in spite of
the glasses. If you want to see some pretty foot-work, Alf, you get him
to put the gloves on."

"I knew it," cried Alf Pond, with conviction; then, turning to the
others, "Didn't I say he oughter been in the ring?"

And Malcolm Sage found relief from the admiring eyes of his guests in
gazing down at the well-bitten mouthpiece of his briar.

"But why did you let me think that Jefferson and his crowd were in it?"
enquired Burns, with corrugated brow.

"Well," said Malcolm Sage slowly, "as I had put twenty-five pounds on
you to steady Pond's nerves, I didn't want to lose it."

And Alf Pond winked gleefully across at Mr. Doulton.

CHAPTER XVII

LADY DENE CALLS ON MALCOLM SAGE

"LADY DENE wishes to see you, Miss."

"Sure the Archbishop of Canterbury isn't with her, Johnnie dear?" asked
Gladys Norman sweetly, without looking up from the cleaning of her
typewriter. In her own mind she was satisfied that this was a little
joke inspired by Thompson.

"No, Miss, she's alone," replied the literal William Johnson.

"Show her Ladyship in," she said, still playing for safety. "Dash!" she
muttered as, having inadvertently touched the release, the carriage slid
to the left, pinching her finger in its course.

William Johnson departed, his head half turned over his right shoulder
in admiration of one who could hear with such unconcern that a real lady
had called to see her.

As her door opened for a second time, Gladys Norman assiduously kept her
eyes fixed upon her machine.

"No, Johnnie," she remarked, still without looking up. "It's no good.
Lady Denes don't call upon typists at 9.30 a.m., so buzz off, little
beanlet. I'm--"

"But this Lady Dene does."

Gladys Norman jumped to her feet, knocking over the benzine bottle and
dropping her brush into the vitals of the machine.

Before her stood a fair-haired girl, her violet eyes brimming with
mischievous laughter, whilst in her arms she carried a mass of red
roses.

"I'm so sorry," faltered Gladys Norman, biting her lower lip, and
conscious of her heightened colour and the violet-stained gloves that
had once been white. "I thought Johnnie was playing a joke."

Lady Dene nodded brightly, whilst Gladys Norman stooped to pick up the
benzine bottle, then with a motion of her head indicated to William
Johnson that his presence was no longer required. Reluctantly the lad
turned, and a moment later the door closed slowly behind him.

"I want you to help me," said Lady Dene, dropping the roses on to the
leaf of Gladys Norman's typing-table. "These are for Mr. Sage."

"For the Chief?" cried Gladys Norman in astonishment. Then she laughed.
The idea of a riot of red roses in Malcolm Sage's room struck her as
funny.

"You see," said Lady Dene, "this is the birthday of the Malcolm Sage
Bureau, and I'm going to decorate his room."

"I don't--" began Gladys Norman hesitatingly, when Lady Dene interrupted
her.

"It's all right," she cried, "I'll take all the responsibility."

"But we've got no vases," objected Gladys Norman.

"My chauffeur has some in the car, and there are heaps more roses," she
added.

"More?" cried Gladys Norman aghast.

"Heaps," repeated Lady Dene, dimpling with laughter at the consternation
on Gladys Norman's face. "Ah! here they are," as the door opened and a
mass of white roses appeared, with a florid face peering over the top.

"Put them down there, Smithson," said Lady Dene, indicating a spot in
front of Gladys Norman's table. "Now fetch the vases and the rest of the
roses."

"The rest!" exclaimed Gladys Norman.

Lady Dene laughed. She was thoroughly enjoying the girl's bewilderment.
"He's not come yet?" she interrogated.

The girl shook her head. "He won't be here for half-an-hour yet," she
said. "He had to go down into the city."

"That will just give us time," cried Lady Dene, stooping and picking up
an armful of the white roses. "You bring the red ones," she cried over
her shoulder, as she passed through Malcolm Sage's door, just as
Smithson entered with several purple vases.

Picking up the red roses, Gladys Norman followed the others into Malcolm
Sage's room. Her feelings were those of someone constrained to commit
sacrilege against her will.

"Now get some water, Smithson."

"Water, my Lady?" repeated Smithson, looking about him vaguely, as Moses
might have done in the wilderness.

"Yes; ask the lad. Be quick," cried Lady Dene, with deft fingers
beginning to arrange the roses in the vases. "Oh! please help me," she
cried turning to Gladys Norman, who had stood watching her as if
fascinated.

"But--- " she began, when Lady Dene interrupted her.

"Quick!" cried Lady Dene excitedly, "or he'll be here before we've
finished."

Then, convinced that it was the work of Kismet, or the devil, Gladys
Norman threw herself into the task of arranging the flowers.

When Thompson arrived some ten minutes later, he stood at the door of
Malcolm Sage's room "listening with his mouth," as Gladys Norman had
expressed it. When he had regained the power of speech, he uttered two
words.

"Jumping Je-hosh-o-phat!" but into them he precipitated all the emotion
of his being.

"Go away, Tommy, we're busy," cried Gladys Norman over her shoulder. "Do
you hear; go away," she repeated, stamping her foot angrily as he made
no movement to obey, and Thompson slid away and closed the door,
convinced that in the course of the next half-hour there would be the
very deuce to pay.

He knew the Chief better than Gladys, he told himself, and if there were
one thing calculated to bring out all the sternness in his nature it was
flippancy, and what could be more flippant than decorating the room of a
great detective with huge bowls and vases of red and white roses.

Regardless of Thompson's forebodings, Lady Dene smiled to herself as she
put the finishing touches to the last vase, whilst Gladys Norman
gathered up the litter of leaves and stalks that lay on the floor,
throwing them into the fireplace. She then removed the last spots of
water from Malcolm Sage's table.

Lady Dene took from her bag a small leather case, which she opened and
placed in the centre of the table opposite Malcolm Sage's chair. It was
a platinum ring of antique workmanship, with a carbuchon of lapis
lazuli.

"Oh, how lovely!" cried Gladys Norman, as she gazed at the ring's
excellent workmanship.

Presently, the two girls stepped back to gaze at their handiwork. In a
few minutes they had transformed an austere, business-man's room into
what looked like a miniature rose-show. From every point red and white
roses seemed to nod their fragrant heads.

"I--" began Gladys Norman, then she stopped suddenly, arrested by a
slight sound behind her. She span round on her heel. Malcolm Sage stood
in the doorway, with Thompson and William Johnson a few feet behind him.

Slowly and deliberately he looked round the room; then his eyes rested
on Lady Dene.

"How do you do, Lady Dene," he said quietly, extending his hand.

For a moment she was conscious of an unaccustomed sensation of fear.
"You're not cross?" she interrogated, looking up at him quizzically, her
head a little on one side. "You see, it's the Bureau's birthday and--"
She stopped suddenly.

Malcolm Sage had dropped her hand and walked over to his table. Picking
up the ring he examined it intently, then turned to Lady Dene,
interrogation in his eyes.

"It's from my husband and me," she said simply. "You have such lovely
hands, and--and we should like you to wear it."

Without a word he removed the ring from the case and put it on the third
finger of his right hand, which he then extended to Lady Dene, who took
it with a little laugh of happiness.

"You're not really cross," she said, looking up at him a little
anxiously.

"To me they stand for so much, Lady Dene," he said gravely, "that I am
not even speculating as to their probable effect upon the faith of my
clients."

And Malcolm Sage smiled.

It was that smile Gladys Norman saw as she closed the door behind her,
and which Thompson resolutely refused to believe.



THE END




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